Taiwan gears up for historic presidential elections amid heightened US-China tensions

Taiwan gears up for historic presidential elections amid heightened US-China tensions

Taiwan, the wedge between United States and China, is set to go into elections on 13 January. In what is set to be a historic year for elections worldwide, after Bangladesh concluded a rather violent general polls, all eyes are now set on Taiwan, as voters will head to the polls this week to choose their next president, vice president and legislative representatives.

A population of 23.5 million people will vote in a poll process that outsizes itself in importance owing to the disputed political status. 

Taiwan had been de facto independent since 1940. However, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) claims the island and all its surrounding territories. 

Taiwan remains an island nation at caught in the crosshairs of a cold battle between United States, that supports Taiwan’s independence, and China, which claims Taiwan to be its own territory. 

Notably, there is a smaller Taiwan’s People Party (TPP), which lies somewhere between both parties on the political spectrum.

But what interests everyone, especially the observers in China and US, is if the more conservative and Beijing-friendly Kuomintang (KMT) wins or the more centre-left and US-friendly Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) claims victory.

Taiwan held their first democratic elections in 1996. Since then DPP and KMT have altered winning the seat of governance in Taiwan. 

However, this year, the DPP’s William Lai Ching-te is the frontrunner with the KMT, which has far failed to mount a substantial challenge to Lai following the collapse of efforts to agree on a joint opposition ticket with the TPP, says Al Jazeera. 

In 2020, voters chose the DPP and its Taiwan-first agenda by a landslide against a backdrop of massive pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, a former British colony that Beijing promised to allow semi-autonomy for 50 years after its return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.

Taiwan had long been offered a similar deal if it returned to the “motherland” but for many in Taiwan, events in Hong Kong, where Beijing imposed a sweeping security law and an electoral overhaul, were evidence that Beijing does not keep its promises.

While Taiwan residents are unhappy with key domestic issues such as the stagnant economy, the high cost of housing, and the future of the island’s energy policies, the presidential election is often overshadowed by the bigger question of Taiwan’s political status.

With the Hong Kong protests long over, voters will now have to decide if they want the economic benefits of a closer relationship with Beijing offered by the KMT or if they want to continue standing apart and risk facing regular Chinese aggression as they have under incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen.

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Published: 08 Jan 2024, 08:40 PM IST

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