President Tsai wins second term with huge victory - Focus Taiwan

2020 ELECTIONS / President Tsai wins second term with huge victory

President Tsai Ing-wen (right) and her running mate Lai Ching-te (left)
President Tsai Ing-wen (right) and her running mate Lai Ching-te (left)

Taipei, Jan. 11 (CNA) President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has been elected to a second four-year term after defeating her main competitor, Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) of the Kuomintang (KMT), by a wide margin.

Tsai of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) received 8.17 million votes, or 57.13 percent of the total valid ballots cast, while Han garnered 5.52 million votes, or 38.61 percent. 

The third candidate, James Soong (宋楚瑜) of the People First Party (PFP), garnered 608,590 votes, or 4.26 percent, according to vote tallies from the Central Election Commission. Voter turnout was 74.9 percent. 

Tsai's vote total was the highest ever recorded for any candidate in a presidential election in Taiwan, breaking the previous high of 7.66 million votes received by Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) in the 2008 election.

At an international conference following the victory, Tsai described the election as demonstrating the resolve of Taiwan's people in standing up to China's threat.

"I also hope that the Beijing authorities understand that democratic Taiwan and our democratically-elected government will not concede to threats and intimidation."

"The results of this election carry an added significance because they have shown that when our sovereignty and democracy are threatened, the Taiwanese people will shout our determination even more loudly back," she said.

CNA photo
CNA photo

Tsai emphasized that in the face of China's diplomatic pressure, military threats and intention to "unilaterally change the cross-Taiwan Strait status quo," her commitment to peaceful, stable cross-strait relations remained unchanged.

"Today, I want to once again call upon the Beijing authorities to remind them that peace, parity, democracy and dialogue are the key to positive cross-strait interactions and long-term stable development," she said.

"I also hope that the Beijing authorities understand that democratic Taiwan and our democratically-elected government will not concede to threats and intimidation."

The results were consistent with final opinion polls released 10 days before the election that had Tsai winning by a double-digit margin, often above 20 percentage points.

Tsai also came close to repeating her 25-point victory in 2016, in which she grabbed 56.12 percent of the vote, against 31.04 percent for Eric Chu (朱立倫) of the KMT and 12.83 percent for Soong.

Her triumph likely means a continued standoff between Taiwan and China, which has marked her first term, and a continued emphasis on relations with the United States and other major democracies to help resist China's efforts to keep Taiwan out of the international community.

Domestically, she should be able to continue to push through legislation she wants because her DPP held its majority in the Legislative Yuan.

The victory was a remarkable rebound for a candidacy that pundits thought was in trouble after a major defeat for Tsai and her party in nationwide elections for local offices in November 2018.

From right to left: President Tsai Ing-wen, Vice President-elect Lai Ching-te and Presidential Office Secretary-General Chen Chu
From right to left: President Tsai Ing-wen, Vice President-elect Lai Ching-te and Presidential Office Secretary-General Chen Chu

Tsai's approval ratings plunged to their lowest point in December 2018 following Han's astonishing victory in Kaohsiung mayoral race that ended 20 years of DPP control in southern Taiwan's biggest city.

Her approval rating fell to 24.3 percent against 60.3 percent disapproval, according to a Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation (TPOF) tracking poll at the time, and that weakness led to calls that she abandon plans to seek re-election.

It also led to a challenge in the DPP's presidential primary, the first time an incumbent president in Taiwan had to compete for the party's nomination in a primary.

Starting in January 2019, however, public support for Tsai rebounded after she embarked on an aggressive year-long strategy to play the sovereignty card by pledging to defend Taiwan's sovereignty and democratic system against China's "one country, two systems" formula.

That strategy, helped by the massive protests against Chinese encroachment that shook Hong Kong in the second half of the year, helped fuel Tsai's victory.

Taiwan does not offer immediate exit polling data, but the last TPOF poll showed 52.6 percent support for Tsai's handling of relations with China against 39.5 percent opposition, a complete flip from 25.3 support and 65.7 percent opposition in December 2018.

The Hong Kong protests also seemed to galvanize a big advantage for Tsai among young voters, who are more likely to favor Taiwan independence and a hard line politically against China.

In a pre-election TVBS poll, Tsai had a 63-24 percent advantage over Han among 20-29 year olds and a 56-21 percent edge among 30-39 year olds.

The question was whether the 1.18 million young Taiwanese eligible to vote in a presidential election for the first time this year would actually show up at polling stations, after only 57 percent of young voters turned out in 2016.

The winning margin suggested that they did.

Overall satisfaction with Tsai's performance also apparently swayed voters.

By the TPOF's final pre-election poll in December 2019, the 60.3 disapproval vs. 24.3 percent approval that was seen at the end of 2018 had flipped to 49.3 percent approval of Tsai's performance against 38.3 percent disapproval .

Tsai's victory was also propelled by serious missteps by the KMT and Han.

Han was heavily criticized for expressing interest in running for the presidency only three months after assuming his duties as Kaohsiung mayor.

The tsunami-like Han wave, which swept him to a shocking victory in Kaohsiung, ebbed in mid-2019 with allegations of his involvement in buying luxury properties, hurting his average Joe image, as well as having extramarital affairs.

His visit in March 2019 to China's liaison offices in Hong Kong and Macau -- which are synonymous with Beijing's "one country, two systems" approach -- gave the DPP the chance to brand him as a puppet of China.

From that point on, he and the KMT had trouble convincing voters that they could resume warmer relations with China without compromising Taiwan's sovereignty, security or democracy.

Han was still in the race as recently as early August, when he had a 3-point lead over Tsai in a TVBS tracking poll, and trailed Tsai by only 1.9 points in an Apple Daily poll.

But bad public relations over his luxury properties, the intensification of the protests in Hong Kong and the big victory for pro-democracy forces there in November, essentially put the race out of reach in Tsai's favor.

(By Elizabeth Hsu)

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