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Taiwan's 2020 Presidential Race

Taiwan Voted For Tsai Ing-wen — But Also Pro-Beijing Parties

2020/01/13 ,

Opinion

Milo Hsieh

Photo Credit: CNA

Milo Hsieh

Milo Hsieh studies international relations at American University. He is a freelance journalist based in Washington D.C. 

What you need to know

International headlines largely focused on Tsai Ing-wen's re-election as a blow to Beijing, but the legislative election results are not as clear-cut.

Taiwan’s 2020 general elections have officially concluded. Taiwanese voters have shown massive support of their incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen. 

While international media have framed Tsai’s victory as a strong rebuke against China, the election results may not be as straightforward. Tsai won the election with a record-breaking 8.1 million votes, but not all her supporters are necessarily in favor of a strong anti-China stance. 

The Kuomintang (KMT) performed surprisingly well 

Despite the opinion polls predicting Han Kuo-yu’s overwhelming defeat, he received more than 5.5 million votes, surpassing that of Eric Chu, the previous KMT candidate in 2016. 

Although Han lost the presidency, his party fared quite well in the legislative race. The KMT gained three seats in the legislature while Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lost seven. Both parties went head-to-head over the party vote, each receiving 13 legislative-at-large seats. 

Nevertheless, KMT chairman Wu Den-yih resigned after the election to shoulder responsibilities for Han's presidential defeat and the party's failure to reclaim majority in the legislature. The group of freshly elected KMT party list legislators includes Sandy Yeh, who publicly supported the Hong Kong police, and Wu Sz-Huai, whose visit to Beijing was televised by Chinese state media. They appear to be significantly more pro-Beijing than the former group of younger KMT legislators who are being replaced. 

Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) secured 11.2 percent of party votes

Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je’s TPP is the party to vote for if one does not read the news or care about politics, according to insider jokes from Taiwanese campaigners. Largely based on a cult of personality around Mayor Ko, the TPP has an unclear political leaning.

But the TPP secured 11.2 percent of the party votes and secured five legislative-at-large seats, outperforming the New Power Party (which gained three seats). TPP campaigns also decidedly influenced outcomes in races such as independent candidate Hung Tzu-Yung’s district in Taichung by splitting votes from younger and moderate voters. 

Ko has worked extensively with the People’s Republic of China as Taipei Mayor both in the public and private sectors. Exchanges such as the Shanghai-Taipei Cities Forum circumvent Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry to facilitate communication between Ko and PRC officials. Cultural events such as attempts to bring Sing! China to National Taiwan University and contracting iQiyi for Taipei City’s new year celebrations have also drawn public concerns given Beijing’s encroaching political influence in Taiwan.

With a history of close ties with the PRC, one can expect the TPP to take a subtle but distinctly pro-Beijing stance in the Legislative Yuan. 

Cohort shifts in the DPP

Similar to the KMT, the DPP is replacing several young party list legislators with DPP old guards. A few DPP legislators who worked with the Taiwan Statebuilding Party (TSP) on drafting the Foreign Influence Transparency Act were not re-nominated. The act, ultimately replaced with the more moderate anti-infiltration bill, would have required registration for PRC-funded and directed agents in Taiwan. TSP generally holds a stronger attitude on the formal creation of a Taiwanese state than the mainstream DPP factions.

President Tsai has taken a much more moderate approach towards China compared to the hardline pro-independence factions within the DPP. Her non-provocative measure has at times led to the suppression of criticisms against Beijing.

After Tsai’s campaign spokesperson Lin Chin-yi said in an interview with Deutsche Welle that promoting unification with China should be considered treason in Taiwan, pro-Beijing newspaper China Times distorted her speech and labeled her a “Taiwan independence supporter.” Rather than coming out in support of Lin, the DPP distanced itself from her and she resigned promptly. 

Even though the DPP has worked closely with the TSP, the cooperation has been uneasy. Polls had previously shown a chance for the TSP to pass the 5-percent party threshold, but the result came in lower at 3.15 percent. Chen Po-wei is the only TSP candidate who will be entering the Legislative Yuan. He is one of the few outspokenly anti-Beijing candidates and won in a district that has been occupied by Taichung’s Yen family ever since Taiwan’s democratization 30 years ago.

What will the next four years look like?

The overwhelming majority vote for Tsai means the people of Taiwan prefers her to Han, who has still managed to gain 38.6 percent of the votes even with a poorly-run campaign. 

Many legislators who have a history of supporting pro-Beijing policies will be entering the Legislative Yuan this year, balanced only by one new legislator whose party is openly skeptical of Beijing’s agenda. Though Tsai has stood up to the Chinese Communist Party’s influence, her effort can eventually be hamstrung by these elements in the legislature.

Taiwan’s defense against Beijing’s influence is still relatively insufficient, and lawmakers will need to keep pushing for relevant actions to uncover and combat Chinese coercion. 

The political reality, however, will make this difficult. The complex web of economic interests will compete with the desire to better protect Taiwan from these “external dark forces.”


READ NEXT: Will Tsai Ing-wen’s Landslide Victory Force Beijing to Rethink Its Approach to Taiwan?

TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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