Taiwan’s voters have defied Beijing’s threats and intimidation and elected as president the most independence-minded of the candidates for the job. After a typically boisterous election, Lai Ching-te of the China-sceptic Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) declared victory Saturday evening, having received just over 40 per cent of the vote in Taiwan’s first-past-the-post system. ‘We’ve written a new page for Taiwan’s history of democracy,’ he told reporters, after winning by a bigger margin than expected. Hou Yu-ih from the more China-friendly Kuomintang (KMT) came second with 33.4 per cent, while Ko Wen-je of the populist Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) received 26.4 per cent.
There was no immediate reaction on Saturday from Beijing, which had denounced Lai, 64, as a dangerous separatist and ‘a troublemaker through and through’. The Chinese Communist party claims Taiwan is part of China, even though the CCP has never ruled the island. Ahead of the vote, the DPP accused Beijing of unprecedented interference in Taiwan’s election. ‘No matter if it is propaganda or military intimidation, cognitive warfare or fake news, they are employing it all’, Lai said. China has been carrying out regular military exercises near Taiwanese waters and airspace and days before the vote sent a series of spy balloons over the island. It called the vote a choice between ‘peace and war’ and reiterated its threats to take the island by force if it continues to resist ‘unification’.
Not for the first time, China’s threats seem to have backfired by solidifying support behind the DPP, for whom this is the third straight term. The incumbent Tsai Ing-wen has served two terms, and Lai was her vice-president. He is expected to continue her policies of reducing economic dependencies on China, encouraging Taiwan’s separate identity, while vowing to defend the island and insisting that only the Taiwanese people can decide the future of the island. Speaking at DPP headquarters Saturday, Lai said he was ‘determined to safeguard Taiwan from threats and intimidation from China’.