For Taiwan's Tsai, much at stake in the weekend elections

January 10, 2020 10:56
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen waves to supporters from a vehicle during a campaign rally in Taoyuan on Thursday ahead of the big weekend election. Photo: Reuters

On Saturday, the people of Taiwan will go to the polls to elect their new president as well as lawmakers. The event will be watched very closely as the outcome will determine the island's social political direction and the course of cross-strait relations over the next four years.

Judging from recent surveys and the tide of public opinion, incumbent leader Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has a bigger chance of winning the presidential contest than her main rival, Kaohsiung mayor and Kuomintang (KMT) candidate Han Kuo-yu. 

However, even if Tsai succeeds in getting a second term, it doesn’t necessarily mean she is home free, because the real key to the DPP’s fate lies not in the presidential race, but rather, in the legislature election.

Under the current election system of Taiwan, every eligible voter is entitled to cast three votes in tomorrow’s elections: one for the presidential candidate, another for the legislature candidates in the constituencies, and the third for the parties.

The third vote, which adopts the system of proportional representation, will determine how the 34 non-constituency seats in the Legislative Yuan, which account for around 30 percent of the total number of seats in the legislature, will be divided among the political parties which have fielded candidates in this election.

Under normal circumstances, voters would often vote for their favored presidential candidates and the political parties to which they belong.

But things are quite different in the current election, not least because while Tsai may be enjoying high popularity, the same cannot be said of DPP, largely due to the weak governance record over the past four years.

If voters adopt the so-called “ticket-splitting” tactic, i.e. vote for Tsai as president but cast the party votes for the KMT or other opposition parties, then it is possible that the DPP could win the presidency but lose its majority of seats in the legislature.

If such split ballot, among other possible scenarios, comes about, Tsai won't have the time or mood to celebrate her victory with champagne, because what she will lead over the next four years will be a minority and lame-duck government.

The full article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 9

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal