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ELECTION 2024/DPP's Lai Ching-te elected as Taiwan's new president

01/13/2024 09:32 PM
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Democratic Progressive Party president-elect Lai Ching-te holds an international press conference after his 2024 presidential election victory on Saturday. CNA photo Jan. 13, 2024
Democratic Progressive Party president-elect Lai Ching-te holds an international press conference after his 2024 presidential election victory on Saturday. CNA photo Jan. 13, 2024

Taipei, Jan. 13 (CNA) Vice President Lai Ching-te (賴清德) of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has won Taiwan's presidential election, helped by a split of the opposition vote that gave him a victory even without an absolute majority of the ballots cast.

With 99.97 percent of Taiwan's 17,795 polling stations reporting as of 9:24 p.m. Saturday, Lai had garnered 5,584,920 votes, or 40.05 percent, according to the official vote count from the Central Election Commission (CEC).

Lai's main rival, Hou Yu-ih (侯友宜) of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT), received 4,669,130 votes, or 33.49 percent, and Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) of the smaller Taiwan People's Party (TPP) came in third with 3,689,251 votes, or 26.46 percent, according to CEC figures.

With Lai's victory, the DPP has made history as the first political party in the Republic of China (Taiwan) to win three consecutive terms since the first direct presidential election was held in 1996.

In his victory speech, Lai expressed gratitude to the people of Taiwan for supporting the DPP ticket, noting that they had "written a new chapter in our democracy."

CNA graphic
CNA graphic

The result of the presidential election has shown the international community that "between democracy and authoritarianism, we stand on the side of democracy," the president-elect said.

"The Republic of China, Taiwan, will continue to walk side by side with democracies around the world," he said.

On Saturday night, KMT's Hou conceded defeat and extended his congratulations to Lai, who is also chairman of the DPP, and his running mate Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴). TPP's Ko urged his supporters not to be disheartened but to continue their hard work to secure victory for Taiwan at the next election.

During the election campaign, Lai had maintained a commanding lead in the opinion polls, despite persistent attacks on his pro-Taiwan independence statements of the past and allegations that he had illegally expanded his family home in New Taipei's Wanli District.

Lai, 64, benefited from the three-way competition, in which Hou and Ko split the votes of people who wanted to see an end to the eight years of DPP rule and the supporters of the KMT-led "pan-blue" camp.

A senior DPP member of Lai's campaign team told CNA that the party had some "concerns" that the pan-blue supporters would cast their ballots strategically for either Hou or Ko and abandon the other candidate, in order to hinder Lai's chance of winning the election.

To the campaign team's relief, that scenario did not materialize.

Shen Yu-chung (沈有忠), a political science professor at Tunghai University in Taichung, said the three-way race worked to Lai's advantage, but it left him well short of the 8.17 million votes President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) had received four years earlier.

Taiwan's new president-elect Lai Ching-te (front left) and vice president-elect Hsiao Bi-khim (front right) accompany President Tsai Ing-wen to deliver the Democratic Progressive Party's victory over the 2024 presidential race on Saturday. CNA photo Jan. 13, 2024
Taiwan's new president-elect Lai Ching-te (front left) and vice president-elect Hsiao Bi-khim (front right) accompany President Tsai Ing-wen to deliver the Democratic Progressive Party's victory over the 2024 presidential race on Saturday. CNA photo Jan. 13, 2024
CNA graphic
CNA graphic

Apart from the dilution of Lai's support in the three-way race, Shen said, another factor was the migration of young voter support from Tsai in 2020 to Ko in 2024.

Meanwhile, the DPP team member, who spoke with CNA on condition of anonymity, said Lai's cross-strait policy, which essentially is that of the Tsai administration, earned the support of a wider section of the electorate.

The election results indicate that Lai's "pro-Taiwan" approach was better accepted by mainstream society than the "pro-China" positions put forth by the KMT and TPP candidates, the source said.

Over the past few months, Lai's team had been presenting the DPP as an advocate for maintaining Taiwan's democratic system and the cross-Taiwan Strait status-quo, and had accused the opposition parties of willingly yielding to China.

Former DPP Secretary General Lo Wen-jia (羅文嘉) made the same argument, saying the biggest difference between the DPP and its main rival the KMT was their respective positions on the China issue.

Taiwan's new president-elect Lai Ching-te (left) waves at the cameras alongside the nation's new vice president-elect Hsiao Bi-khim (right) when taking the stage to declare the victory of the Democratic Progressive Party's presidential bid on Saturday. CNA photo Jan. 13, 2024
Taiwan's new president-elect Lai Ching-te (left) waves at the cameras alongside the nation's new vice president-elect Hsiao Bi-khim (right) when taking the stage to declare the victory of the Democratic Progressive Party's presidential bid on Saturday. CNA photo Jan. 13, 2024

The DPP sought to forge an alliance with other democracies in the face of Chinese threats, while the KMT wanted to "lock Taiwan into China," Lo said.

The KMT and the TPP, however, had denied throughout the campaign that they were sacrificing Taiwan's freedom and interests with their advocacy for friendlier relations with China. They argued that it was in Taiwan's best interests to maintain cordial relations with its democratic allies, as well as with China, to avoid war and conflict across the Taiwan Strait.

Lai -- son of a coal miner who was killed in an accident in the pit when Lai was two years old -- was trained as a doctor at National Cheng Kung University in Tainan and later in public health at the Harvard School of Public Health in the United States.

He has said in multiple interviews that China's missile tests in waters around Taiwan in 1996, just before the country's first direct presidential election, served as a catalyst for his entry into politics.

Over the past three decades, he worked his way from serving as a lawmaker to being elected mayor of Tainan (2010 to 2017). He served as premier from 2017 to 2019 during Tsai's first term, and he has held the position of vice president since 2020.

Democratic Progressive Party presidential candidate Lai Ching-te (second right) casts his ballot in Tainan on Saturday. CNA photo Jan. 13, 2024
Democratic Progressive Party presidential candidate Lai Ching-te (second right) casts his ballot in Tainan on Saturday. CNA photo Jan. 13, 2024

Lai's close associates, including Legislator Lin Chun-hsien (林俊憲), have described him as projecting an image of a "serious [and] reserved" person who upholds "high moral standards" and refuses to compromise on his principles.

That explained why the DPP swiftly withdrew its nominations of those who had negative issues, Lin said, referring to the likes of Legislator Chao Tien-lin (趙天麟), who was reported during his re-election campaign to have been involved in an extramarital relationship with a Chinese woman years ago.

Meanwhile, Tsai, who cannot run again as she is nearing the end of her second and final four-year term, has praised Lai's performance as vice president, saying he shared a lot of responsibility as her deputy.

Lai has made tremendous progress over the past few years and has become a figure not only well-known but also trusted by the international community, Tsai said.

(By Yeh Su-ping and Teng Pei-ju)

Enditem/ls/pc

Further Reading

▶ Voting day blog: Taiwan chooses a new president

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