DPP’s Lai set to win Taiwan presidency

August 01, 2023 09:40
DPP’s Lai Ching-te remains in the lead in latest Taiwan presidential election polls. Photo: Reuters

In 2000, the candidate of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won the presidency of Taiwan with just 39 per cent of the popular vote. History is set to repeat itself next January with a victory for its candidate Lai Ching-te, although he is polling below 40 per cent.

It will be a three-horse race, between Lai, the current Vice-President, Hou You-yi of the Kuomintang (Nationalist) Party and Ko Wen-je, leader of the Taiwan People’s Party. The latest opinion polls give Lai 34 per cent, against 20 per cent for Ko and 18 per cent for Hou.

The Taiwan system does not require the winner to have more than 50 per cent of the vote. A simple plurality is sufficient.

The 2024 election could scarcely be more important. It may determine whether there will be a war between China and Taiwan. The KMT is campaigning that a vote for the DPP is a vote for war and one for the KMT is a vote for peace.

Beijing strongly favours the KMT candidate. In March this year, it laid out the red carpet for Ma Ying-jeou during a visit to the mainland. KMT President between 2008 and 2016, he is the only leader of Taiwan to have met President Xi Jinping, in November 2015 in Singapore.
During the last two years, the PLA has intensified air and naval exercises around and above Taiwan to a level not seen since 1949. Xi has said that reunification is an issue that cannot be delayed.
But Xi offers only one method of reunification with Taiwan – the ‘one country, two systems’ formula adopted in Hong Kong. With the imposition of the National Security Law in 2020, mass arrests of democrats and loss of civil liberties, this formula has been discredited among the vast majority of Taiwan voters.

Even Hou is unwilling to accept the ‘one country, two systems’ formula. None of the three candidates is.
In an opinion piece in the Taipei Times on July 21, Jethro Wang, a former secretary of the Mainland Affairs Council, set out the DPP position. “During seven years, Taiwan has rejected China and sought out new allies. Its merchandise exports last year totaled US$479 billion, ranking 17th in the world. Foreign tech giants like Google and Microsoft are investing here. In this year’s IMD World Competitiveness Ranking, Taiwan was placed sixth out of 64 economies.

“The DPP government has put Taiwan in the global spotlight. With the G20 Summit, the EU, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue and NATO have been paying close attention to cross-strait security and opposing unilateral attempts to alter the cross-straits ‘status quo’ with acts of military intimidation,” he said. “Next year’s election is no doubt a choice between democracy and autocracy.”

The case against the DPP was most eloquently expressed by Terry Gou, founder of Foxconn, in an opinion piece in the Washington Post on July 17. Gou ran against Hou as KMT candidate but was defeated.

“With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine showing that large-scale war involving great powers is a 21st-century reality, the Taiwan Strait has re-emerged as one of the most dangerous front lines in the world,” Gou wrote. “Beijing, Washington and Taipei share responsibility for the current state of confrontation.

“I have long advocated the immediate resumption of direct cross-strait negotiations between Taiwan and China as the only way to truly ease tensions and preserve Taiwan’s democracy, freedom and rule of law. We must work with China directly on the basis of the one-China framework.

“This will necessitate direct, face-to-face talks by senior leaders of both governments, in what is sure to be a long and arduous process of discussion and negotiation. It is absolutely vital that China and Taiwan agree on a framework and a process than can pull us back from the precipice,” he said.

Gou is admired by Taiwan people as their richest and most successful businessman. His plant in Zhengzhou, Henan province, makes 50 per cent of the world’s iPhones and employs 100,000 people. But a majority regard him as too close and beholden to Beijing. The KMT delegates took the same view in rejecting him in favour of Hou.

David Wang, a political analyst in Taipei, said that it was Xi’s military policies that were giving Lai the presidency. “How can Taiwan people feel favourable to China when their country is threatened every day by fighter jets and naval vessels? These policies greatly help the DPP.”

On domestic issues, the DPP is vulnerable. Voters were angry over high property prices, social inequality, the low rise in wages and corruption scandals within the DPP.

Lai is hoping that, when his people go to vote in January, relations with China will trump this anger over the DPP’s mistakes during its eight years in power.

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A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.