Between three fires: Taiwan to vote in 'peace and war' election on January 13

HONG KONG:  Taiwanese voters will choose their next president, vice president and legislature on Saturday. Amid extreme tensions in the Taiw...


HONG KONG:  Taiwanese voters will choose their next president, vice president and legislature on Saturday. Amid extreme tensions in the Taiwan Strait, many political pundits are calling the upcoming vote "a choice between war and peace."

The outcome of the vote could be a game-changer for both the political landscape in Taiwan and for how the situation in the Asia-Pacific may evolve, because depending on who wins, tensions will either be reduced or things will escalate further.

Bloomberg published an estimate this week putting a price tag on a war over Taiwan, the world’s largest supplier of microchips, at $10 trln as its economists warned that a potential conflict would shrink global GDP by 10.2%. For this reason, not only the 23 million people of Taiwan, but also residents of mainland China, the United States and other countries await the results of the Taiwanese elections.

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Lai Ching-te, 64, a member of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Hou You-yi, 66, from the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party, and Ko Wen-je, 64, from third party TPP, are vying for the presidency.

In addition, residents of the island will also elect members of the unicameral legislature of Taiwan as experts believe that the DPP would lose its majority in the 113-seat chamber.

Hung Yao-nan of Tamkang University in Taiwan, who specializes in diplomacy and international relations, told TASS that "following the vote, the Legislative Yuan would be split between the three factions, with neither of them collecting more than half [of the total number of seats]." He also doubts whether any of the parties would gain a majority in the new government or parliament.

Presidential frontrunner

Lai, Taiwan’s incumbent Vice President, has been leading opinion polls by a narrow margin with 32.4% of people supporting him. Previously a doctor, Lai is the most experienced politician among the three candidates, as he was a legislator for more than a decade and held the post of Mayor of Tainan for seven years, before heading the Executive Yuan, or the island’s cabinet.

He is seen as the successor to incumbent Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.

Ahead of the election, Lai said that accepting the one China principle "isn’t true peace." At the same time, China views Lai as a separatist who may provoke a conflict in the Taiwan Strait. Other analysts believe Lai would welcome Taiwan’s rapprochement with the United States and its allies in the region.

Crimefighter

Before becoming a politician, KMT’s Hou, who enjoys the support of 28.2% of respondents, served as quite a successful police officer for over 20 years, working on several high-profile cases. Hou entered the political arena in 2010 when he became deputy Mayor of New Taipei City (or Xinbei).

Hou pledged efforts to contribute to normalizing ties with mainland China. He vows to deepen humanitarian and economic relations with Beijing before reviving the political dialogue. He described his position toward Beijing as a three-dimensional strategy, comprising deterrence, dialogue and de-escalation. However, Hou said he would not even discuss Taiwan’s potential reunification with mainland China.

Hopeful with a scalpel

TPP’s Ko, running third in opinion polls with 24.6%, had a successful career in the medical field before becoming a politician. In 2014, Ko won the Taipei mayoral election despite no previous political experience and was re-elected to the post. In 2019, he established the Taiwan People’s Party and became its leader.

Ko’s election campaign focuses on Taiwan’s internal affairs, as the presidential hopeful calls himself a rational technocrat and pits his party as an alternative to DPP and KMT, or a third option that sits somewhere between dangerously provoking the Chinese mainland and getting too close with it.

Who will win?

Opinion polls show that 15% of people still don’t know who they will vote for or are considering the options, Beijing, on its part, does not have a dog in the race. Political scientists stress that Chinese officials openly call representatives of the ruling DPP separatists and consider Lai as the least desirable candidate.

Shen Ming-Shih, director of the Division of National Security at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR) in Taiwan, told TASS that China does not intend to antagonize Taiwanese voters ahead of the election. "However, if the DPP candidate wins, major warnings <…> or demands to recognize the 1992 consensus and the one China principle cannot be ruled out," he warned.


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Local Glob: Between three fires: Taiwan to vote in 'peace and war' election on January 13
Between three fires: Taiwan to vote in 'peace and war' election on January 13
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