Taiwan's Victorious New Leaders Eye Change - and Continuity

By Baum, Julian | The Christian Science Monitor, January 19, 2016 | Go to article overview

Taiwan's Victorious New Leaders Eye Change - and Continuity


Baum, Julian, The Christian Science Monitor


The stunning sweep by Taiwan's opposition in winning the presidency and a majority of legislative seats in the weekend's election marks a "new normal" for the island's domestic politics, and opens the way for a more equitable but uncertain relationship with China.

Both President-elect Tsai Ing-wen and Beijing appear cautious about disrupting the rapprochement achieved under President Ma Ying- jeou, whose long-dominant Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) worked closely with the Chinese Communist Party during the past decade. But the benefits of the KMT's China policy were not shared or substantial enough to overcome Taiwanese discontent and a surge in civic activism by Taiwanese youth.

Now leaders on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are rethinking their agenda. "Each side is waiting for the other to throw the first stone," says Su Tzen-ping, head of New Talk, an independent news website.

"What we're seeing in this election is the new normal of democratic politics of Taiwan," says Asian affairs expert Joseph Wong of the University of Toronto. This has "fundamentally changed the nature of the relationship across the Taiwan Strait" by raising the profile of Taiwan's democratic institutions and practices.

"What's most important in Taiwan is to recognize that its democracy is its major leverage and major bargaining chip" in its relations with China and the world.

Opposition at a high pointSupporters of President-elect Tsai, who will be Taiwan's first woman president when she is inaugurated in May, see her victory as a new beginning for the island republic, which has been dominated by the KMT for seven decades.

With the KMT pushed completely out of power for the first time, the reins of government will pass to a strongly pro-Taiwan party that waged its campaign on a center-left agenda of progressive economic policies, social justice, and greater accountability, but under-played differences with Beijing.

"Together we have accomplished a great task for Taiwan," Ms. Tsai told supporters in her victory speech before tens of thousands of supporters on Jan. 16. "We have completed the third transition of political power in Taiwan's democratic history. And through our actions, we want to tell the world, once again, that Taiwan equals democracy and democracy equals Taiwan."

After a smooth, well-run campaign, Tsai won 56 percent of the vote, easily besting her nearest rival, the KMT's Eric Chu, who took 31 percent of the 12 million ballots cast. In the legislature, Tsai's Democratic Progress Party (DPP) won 68 seats for a solid majority in the 113-seat body, giving the DPP control over two branches of government for the first time. Five legislative seats were also won by the youthful New Power Party, with heavy metal rock star Freddy Lim and human rights lawyer Huang Guo-chang both defeating veteran KMT legislators.

The DPP's dominance in all of Taiwan's major population centers underscores a growing consensus on the island that its political identity is separate from China, even though the government currently exists within the framework of the Constitution of the Republic of China as designed by the KMT and imported from the Chinese mainland in 1949. …

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