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ELECTION 2024/Taiwan's 'boring' election a sign of its maturity as a democracy: Scholar

01/14/2024 11:56 AM
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CNA photo Jan. 13, 2024
CNA photo Jan. 13, 2024

Taipei, Jan. 14 (CNA) Contrary to the existential framings in the international media, Taiwan's 2024 election campaign was calm and even "boring" compared to those of previous years, showing that it has become a normal democracy, a U.S. scholar said Saturday.

Kharis Templeman, a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution who was in Taiwan to observe the election, made the remarks in a post-election interview with CNA.

In comparison to past Taiwanese elections, Templeman said, no candidate on the 2024 ballot was "especially inspiring or especially polarizing," and all three converged on many of their policy proposals.

This lower-stakes atmosphere was reflected in voter turnout, which at 71.86 percent was the second-lowest in Taiwan's history, said Templeman, manager of the Hoover Project on Taiwan in the Indo-Pacific Region.

While these are typically interpreted as negative signs, they also showed that Taiwan is "kind of a normal democracy, where people don't feel like each election is [an] existential decision about Taiwan's future," he said.

Being in Taiwan for the election, Templeman said, he was struck by how starkly the situation on the ground differed from the coverage in international media, which has portrayed it as an "existential election."

On the contrary, based on both the candidates themselves and their policy platforms, "it was kind of a boring election," he said.

Election takeaways

Templeman noted that while the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) succeeded in winning a third term in the presidency, its vote share fell considerably from 2020 and 2016, and it also lost control of the Legislature.

In the presidential contest, the DPP's Lai Ching-te (賴清德) garnered about 40 percent of the vote, followed by Hou Yu-ih (侯友宜) of the main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) with 33.5 percent, and Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) of the upstart Taiwan People's Party (TPP) with 26.5 percent.

In the Legislature, the DPP finished with 51 seats, putting it well short of the 57 needed for a majority in the 113-seat body, while the KMT won 52 seats and the TPP won eight.

Another two seats were won by independents aligned with the KMT.

圖說

Based on these results, he said, the DPP will face challenges trying to govern, given that 60 percent of the electorate "wanted change" and voted for someone else.

To Lai's credit, Templeman added, he seemed to recognize this during his victory speech, in which he raised the possibility of holding a "national affairs conference" with opposition parties to find areas for consensus and cooperation.

"He's recognizing very early on that he will need to reach across the aisle and build coalitions in order to govern," Templeman said.

Emergence of the TPP

Another big story in the election was that while the DPP and KMT won their core voters, almost "everybody else" seemed to have voted for the TPP, reflecting a widespread disappointment or frustration with the two main parties, according to Templeman.

As both main parties fell short of a majority in the Legislature, the TPP will control the chamber's balance of power, giving it the ability to shape what policies get approved, he said.

Despite its strong showing, Templeman said, it remains unclear how much staying power the TPP has.

In future elections, the 26.5 percent of voters who supported Ko for president and the 23.8 percent who backed the TPP on the at-large (party list) legislator ballot could vote for other outsider candidates, or return to the KMT or DPP, he said.

DPP's post-election challenges

Other experts, meanwhile, highlighted the challenges both foreign and domestic the DPP will face now that it has won the election.

Wen-ti Sung, a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council's Global China Hub, said the party's victory will likely be met in the short term with increased pressure from Beijing, in the form of economic sanctions on Taiwanese exports, military shows of force or "gray zone" activities.

"All of these likely actions will signal Beijing's displeasure against the electoral outcome and pre-emptively anchor the terms of subsequent interactions between Beijing and the next DPP administration," Sung said, in an analysis on the Atlantic Council's website.

Beyond that, he said, the DPP will also have to learn to work effectively with opposition parties in the divided Legislature.

If it can do that, it may put it in a stronger negotiating position with Beijing and allow it to make progress on issues such as reopening cross-strait lines of communication, which are "essential" to regional stability, Sung said.

Taiwan's new Legislature will be sworn in on Feb. 1, while Lai Ching-te will take office as president on May 20.

(By Chang Hsin-yu and Matthew Mazzetta)

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