A Vote for Independence

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William Lai, the candidate for Taiwan’s ruling party, won Saturday’s presidential election in a vote that defied China’s ambition of “reunification” but also expressed citizens’ concerns over domestic woes, Reuters reported.

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is staying in office following on from Tsai Ing-wen’s eight-year mandate. It is the first time in Taiwan’s 30-year democratic history that a party has secured three consecutive terms.

In his first speech as President-elect, Lai promised he would “safeguard Taiwan from threats and intimidation from China.”

His stance on Taiwan’s sovereignty and identity earned him the label of “dangerous separatist” from neighboring China, which sees the self-governing island as part of its country. In the days before the election, the mainland had sent warning signals to the Taiwanese in the form of surveillance balloons, calling on them to shun the DPP.

After the opposition conceded defeat, Beijing reaffirmed its desire for reunification. The DPP “cannot represent the mainstream public opinion,” Chinese officials said.

With an unusually low 40 percent of the vote, Lai owes his victory to the country’s first-past-the-post electoral system, while his party fell short of a majority in the concurrent legislative election.

The outcome reflected voters’ concerns beyond its giant neighbor. The DPP has been accused of failing to adequately address issues such as youth unemployment, rising housing prices, and slowing growth, the BBC reported.

Recognizing his party’s failings, Lai said he welcomed talent from the opposition.

With 51 seats, the DPP failed to dominate the legislature, while the Kuomintang (KMT) party secured 52 seats. The KMT, China’s favored party, also failed to secure a majority in parliament, leaving the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) with its eight seats as kingmaker.

Following the election, the TPP showed openness to a coalition agreement with Lai’s faction. “Whoever speaks reasonably, we will support,” its leader Ko Wen-je said.

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