Taiwan elects first woman president

President-elect Tsai Ing-wen celebrating her victory in Taipei yesterday. The results were a stunning indictment of President Ma Ying-jeou's KMT.
President-elect Tsai Ing-wen celebrating her victory in Taipei yesterday. The results were a stunning indictment of President Ma Ying-jeou's KMT.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Tsai Ing-wen scores decisive victory; pro-independence DPP also wins unprecedented control of the legislature

Taiwan has elected its first woman President, Ms Tsai Ing-wen, who swept to victory with a commanding lead - one that strengthens her hand in the island's polarised politics, but also raises expectations of what she can achieve.

The 59-year-old former academic won 56.12 per cent of the votes yesterday, garnering more support than her two rivals - Mr Eric Chu of the Kuomintang (KMT) and Mr James Soong of the People First Party - combined.

Ms Tsai's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which is pro-independence, also won an unprecedented control of the legislature.

 

China, which views Taiwan as its territory, reacted to the election results saying it would continue to oppose any Taiwanese independence activities, while the United States, a Taiwanese ally, said it has "profound interest" in the continuation of peace and stability between the two sides.

Singapore's Foreign Affairs Ministry congratulated Ms Tsai, saying in a statement: "As a longstanding friend, Singapore looks forward to maintaining our close relations and cooperation with Taiwan based on our consistent 'One China' policy."

Her voice breaking, Ms Tsai last night pledged to usher in a "new era of politics" - one that will fix the island's policy failures and rebuild trust in the government.

The biggest question mark is over how she will navigate relations with China, and Ms Tsai sought to soothe jitters , saying she will cultivate "consistent, predictable and sustainable" cross-strait ties.

She, however, did not state her stance on the 1992 Consensus, which recognises one China albeit with differing interpretations, a key principle for Beijing.

In a clear message to Beijing, Ms Tsai stressed that both sides have the responsibility to ensure that "no provocations or accidents take place". "Today's results is the manifestation of the will of Taiwan's 23 million people," she said pointedly. "Our democratic system, national identity and international space must be respected."

The results were a stunning indictment of President Ma Ying-jeou's KMT and his policies over the past eight years, including the centrepiece - rapidly warming ties with China. He burnished his legacy to some extent last November, when he met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Singapore.

However, that cut little ice with Taiwanese voters, fed up with a long-festering economic malaise. Many were also wary of China's growing influence in Taiwan.

The legislative race was also indicative of the change that people wanted. Like dominoes, stalwarts in the KMT toppled to young faces in the DPP and other small pro-independence parties, such as the New Power Party, leaving uncertain the question of the party's future.

Mr Chu conceded defeat and announced his resignation as party chairman at 7pm, when counting was barely halfway through.

Fireworks reigned above jubilant crowds at the DPP headquarters, while tears flowed at KMT as Mr Chu bowed and apologised to his supporters. "I wish Ms Tsai and the DPP well, as they lead Taiwan towards a better future," he said.

An immediate challenge for Ms Tsai will be a four-month limbo period before her inauguration. Ms Tsai said a transitional team will be set up to communicate with Mr Ma's outgoing government. Expectations are high that she can help overcome Taiwan's economic woes. Said political scientist Wu Yu-shan: "Ms Tsai will have a honeymoon, but it will be a very short one."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 17, 2016, with the headline 'First woman President for Taiwan'. Print Edition | Subscribe