Taiwan election: All eyes on Beijing’s reaction following historic victory

New president Lai Ching-te sounds conciliatory note after his party wins third successive term in office

Lai Ching-te’s victory in Taiwan’s presidential election on Saturday was historic, making his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) the first party to win three successive terms in office. Although the three-way contest was closely fought, Mr Lai won with a comfortable seven-point margin over the Kuomintang’s (KMT’s) Hou Yu-ih.

But a strong performance by the third candidate, Ko Wen-je, meant Mr Lai won with just more than 40 per cent of the vote, making him Taiwan’s first president to be elected without a majority of the votes for more than 20 years. The DPP also lost its majority in the legislative yuan, Taiwan’s parliament, where the KMT won a plurality, leaving Mr Ko’s Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) holding the balance of power.

Taiwan’s first democratic presidential election was held less than 30 years ago, but Saturday’s vote was a model of transparent democracy. At count centres open to the public, election workers held each ballot up for everyone to see as they called out who it was for, and it was marked up on a whiteboard.

The unsuccessful presidential candidates conceded defeat and congratulated Mr Lai just four hours after the polls closed. Mr Lai told them that together they had shown the world how much Taiwan cherishes its democratic way of life.


Mr Lai promised on Saturday to continue outgoing President Tsai Ing-wen’s policy of closer relations with the United States, diversifying the economy away from mainland China and stressing Taiwan’s separate identity. This policy has seen relations with Beijing deteriorate to the point that dialogue across the Taiwan Strait has effectively ground to a halt.

When Ms Tsai won almost 58 per cent of the vote in 2020, she could claim a popular mandate for her policy towards the mainland. But on Saturday, almost 60 per cent of voters chose candidates who said the policy was dangerous and provocative and called for a more emollient approach to Beijing.

“The clearest message from the Taiwanese people during this election cycle is that they want a competent government, but also a very strong check and balance. So as the president, of course it is my responsibility to respect the opinions of the Taiwanese people,” Mr Lai told reporters after the results came in.

Recent months have seen a thaw in relations between Washington and Beijing, and neither of the world’s biggest powers has an interest in an increase in tensions over Taiwan at present. Mr Lai sounded a conciliatory note on Saturday – but it is far from clear whether Beijing will exercise similar restraint.

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