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HomeLatest NewsIn a Setback for Beijing, Taiwan Elects Lai Ching-te as President

In a Setback for Beijing, Taiwan Elects Lai Ching-te as President

Lai’s party, which has emphasised the sovereignty of the island, overcame an opposition group that is in favour of reestablishing diplomatic ties with China.

Lai Ching-te: An Unpopular Candidate for President of Taiwan

Taiwanese presidential candidate Lai Ching-te has been painted by the Communist Party of China as a formidable foe for many years. Lai has been pushing for Taiwan’s total independence, putting more pressure on both sides to raise the stakes for a possible conflict. Millions of Taiwanese were voting for their next president, and a Beijing-affiliated news site warned that Lai might steer Taiwan “down an irreversible path.” Taiwanese voters were given the choice between “peaceful reunification or war” by China, but Lai won. With 40% of the vote, Mr. Lai, who is the vice president of Taiwan at the moment, was able to clinch a third straight term in the presidency for his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), an unparalleled feat.

Celebration upon Lai Ching-te’s Win in Taiwan’s Presidential Poll

Thousands of supporters cheered Lai’s growing lead during the vote count, which was shown on a big screen, as they gathered outside the DPP headquarters in Taipei and waved pink and green flags. During the festivities, Lai gave a speech to his supporters in which he urged togetherness and reaffirmed his commitment to protecting Taiwan’s identity. He said, “We decide to stand with the rod of democracy between authoritarianism and democracy.” This is what the global election campaign signifies.

Taiwanese Vice President and ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate William Lai Ching-te gestures during a rally after winning the presidential elections in Taipei, Taiwan, 13 January 2024. EFE-EPA/DANIEL CENG

72% of voters cast ballots, with many Taiwanese living abroad among them. Some polling places had lines forming before the morning session started. To accommodate those who preferred to cast their ballot in person, around 18,000 polling places were put up throughout the island in temples, churches, community centres, and schools. Many of Lai’s backers believe he will protect Taiwan’s independence and manage his interactions with China carefully. Hsu Ya-hsuan, a 28-year-old product manager from Taipei, was one backer who voiced faith in Lai’s capacity to wisely handle relations with China. “He is an experienced political figure, and I believe he won’t provoke China but can handle relations with caution,” she stated.

President-elect Lai Ching-te Faces Obstacles

When she takes office in May, President-elect Lai will have a lot on her plate. China’s reaction to his victory will be far from surprising, but it will also be fierce and crucial. In addition, Lai has to negotiate a domestic political environment similar to that which Tsai Ing-wen, the president of Taiwan, encountered in her eight years in office. Lai’s party now faces the difficulty of carrying out its agenda in the legislature after losing the majority. There won’t be a honeymoon phase for him internally, according to former Nationalist Party senator Jason Su in Taiwan. He is probably going to experience a lot of external pressure and military and economic hostility from China.

Lai Ching-te: A Resolute Leader Meeting Both Internal and External Obstacles

Those in Taiwanese politics who know him well claim that Lai Ching-te is not the irrational firebrand Beijing portrays. There is no certainty or imminence of war with Taiwan, according to numerous officials and experts. Lai has avoided total separation from China by running a constant campaign on preserving Taiwan’s military capabilities and strengthening links with the US and other democracies. Even though Lai is unwavering in his resolve to secure and unite Taiwan, the mounting pressure from China may put his political and diplomatic skills to the test. It’s a big task to be in charge at a time when certain American officials have warned that China is getting ready to invade Taiwan militarily very soon.

In response to Lai’s victory, China’s official Xinhua News Agency declared that the election results prove that the Democratic Progressive Party does not represent the mainstream sentiment on the island. By encouraging “cross-strait exchanges and cooperation,” Beijing is indicating its intention to expand its influence over other political parties and groups in Taiwan. Beijing may try to put pressure on Lai in the upcoming months by enforcing trade restrictions on the products that Taiwan still has or by trying to take over through military drills. Despite Lai Ching-te’s alignment with Tsai Ing-wen’s position, many believe that Xi Jinping’s strategy regarding Taiwan is unlikely to change.

Taiwan’s relations with the US remain uncertain

Taiwan is similarly struggling with unpredictability in its US relations. Despite the United States’ unwavering commitment to supporting Taiwan in its fight against Chinese pressure, the weight of the Middle East and Ukrainian crises could change the game. Further developments for Taiwan may result from the U.S. presidential election in November. The internal political environment that Mr. Lai will have to manage is more complex and divided than what President Tsai Ing-wen encountered in her eight years in office. Two of Lai’s primary competitors received a sizable share of the votes, which would have damaged his credibility. With more than 50% of the vote in both the 2016 and 2020 elections, President Tsai has a strong political legacy.

Taiwan’s Central Election Commission reports that Mr. Lai received 33.5% of the vote, while Wen-Je of the Kuomintang received 26.5%. This represents a warning to established parties that Lai took advantage of concerns about housing affordability, job opportunities, and the perception of slow income growth, especially among young voters. These difficulties indicate that in order to lead Taiwan through these unsettling times, President-elect Lai Ching-te will need to deal with a complicated range of issues on the domestic and international fronts.

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