Patron: Her Excellency, The Right Honourable Dame Cindy Kiro, GNZM, QSO, Governor-General of New Zealand

The Complex Story of the January 2020 Taiwan Presidential Elections

By Dr Anita Perkins 

The 15th presidential election of Taiwan took place on 11th January 2020. Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was voted in as president. Her closest opponent was Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang (KMT). Like the 2016 US Presidential elections or the 2017 New Zealand elections, making a call on the outcome of the election in Taiwan was difficult in the lead up to it. The campaigns of Han and Tsai related to domestic Taiwan issues, as well as Taiwan’s relations with China.

During 2018 local elections, Tsai’s popularity had taken a dip amid disagreement with her policy stances, and scandals concerning her staff members. However, this changed when Tsai spoke out against Xi Jinping’s rhetoric concerning Taiwan unifying with China under a “one country, two systems” process. This issue was particularly prominent against a backdrop of political protest in Hong Kong. On winning the election, President Tsai said: “I believe many democratic countries in the world, and many friends in Hong Kong, will feel happy about our collective decision.”1

Leung Man-to, a political-science professor at the National Cheng Kung University in Tainan, Taiwan, made the following assessment on the outcomes of the election: “This election is proof that Xi Jinping’s strategy of keeping Hong Kong and Taiwan under control is a total failure.”2 Simon Draper, Executive Director of the Asia New Zealand Foundation, made a similar, yet more tempered comment: “The first significant event for 2020 regarding Hong Kong has already happened, namely the election in Taiwan. The strong backing by Taiwanese for the more independent-minded President Tsai Ing-wen will give Beijing cause for reflection.”3

Below we set out articles from the Lowy Institute and the East Asia Forum which provide more detailed analysis of the key issues of the Taiwanese election.

7 Jan: The absurdity shaping Taiwan’s presidential elections
“The country that isn’t a country might one day reunify with the PRC, of which it was never a part. That’s just a start. […] Fifteen countries officially recognise Taiwan as an independent country, but the United Nations has accepted that Beijing, as the capital of the People’s Republic of China (which has never controlled Taiwan), speaks for the island.”

11 Jan: Taiwan’s high stakes 2020 elections
“As narratives of candidates battling over the China factor re-emerge, the significance of these elections extends beyond just the presidency. The stakes for Taiwan’s 2020 elections are high and the consequences are potentially deep and far reaching.”

11 Jan: ‘Anti-infiltration bill’ may change Taiwan’s election outcome
“President Tsai Ing-wen said Taiwan ‘urgently’ needed to pass a planned anti-infiltration law to protect Taiwan’s democracy from the threat of Chinese disinformation, but the opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), claims that the bill is an unusual tool that may hurt Taiwan’s democracy.”

15 Jan: Taiwan voters reject Beijing, but not populism
“Tsai Ing-wen’s party used fear of Beijing to see off a weak opponent. She’ll have much to prove during her second term.”