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This 2024 presidential election could change the world – and it’s not happening in the US

Posted in Featured, Talking Politics

Published on January 11, 2024 with No Comments

A presidential election in 2024 with profound implications for the wider world certainly sounds familiar. But this one is happening a lot sooner than you might think.

Taiwan, a small and vibrant Asian democracy on the doorstep of a much larger authoritarian neighbor, holds presidential and parliamentary elections on Saturday and the results will reverberate far beyond its borders.

The outcome is being closely watched by China’s Communist leaders who have long claimed Taiwan as part of their territory despite having never controlled it.

The vast majority of people in Taiwan don’t want to be ruled by China, whose strongman leader Xi Jinping has tightened his grip at home as the country becomes more aggressive towards its neighbors.

China is openly opposed to Taiwan’s current ruling party and has framed the election as a choice between “war and peace, prosperity and decline.” Xi delivered a fresh warning to Taiwan in a New Year’s Eve speech, declaring: “The reunification of the motherland is a historical inevitability.”

Taiwan also remains the biggest source of tension between China and the US, the island’s main international backer and arms supplier, and relations between the world’s two superpowers have been rocky for years.

How China responds to the choices made by Taiwan’s voters this weekend will test whether Beijing and Washington can manage tensions, or move toward further confrontation – and even conflict.

Three men will be vying to succeed President Tsai Ing-wen, who has held office for eight years and cannot run again due to term limits.

The frontrunner in the tight race is Lai Ching-te, the current vice president from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which champions Taiwan’s de-facto sovereignty and separate identity from China.

A doctor-turned-politician, Lai has previously described himself as “a practical worker for Taiwan independence” – a claim that enraged Beijing and worried Washington. But he has moderated his stance on the campaign trail, pledging, like Tsai, to keep the “status quo” and offering to talk with Beijing “under principles of equality and dignity.” Beijing has rebuffed his offers, calling him a “war maker” and “destroyer of cross-strait peace.”

Lai’s running mate, Hsiao Bi-khim, is a well-known figure in Washington where she recently served as Taiwan’s envoy. China has sanctioned Hsiao twice for being a “stubborn secessionist.”

Lai’s biggest challenger is Hou Yu-ih, a former police officer and popular mayor of New Taipei City from the Kuomintang (KMT), Taiwan’s main opposition party which traditionally favors closer ties with China. Hou blames the DPP for provoking China and advocates “peaceful relations” with its neighbor by keeping dialogue open and boosting economic and social ties. He also vows to strengthen Taiwan’s defense.

The third contender, Ko Wen-je, hails from the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), which he founded only in 2019. The charismatic former mayor of Taipei paints himself as a political outsider. His focus on bread-and-butter issues has been especially well received by younger voters, many of whom have grown frustrated with Taiwan’s traditional political duopoly as well as stagnant wages and unaffordable homes.

On relations with China, Ko has touted a “middle path,” accusing the DPP of being too hostile and criticizing the KMT for being too deferential.

No political party in Taiwan has ever been elected to a third term in power. If Lai wins the DPP another term, it would be unprecedented in the island’s 27-year democratic history – and a potent symbol of the failure of China’s bellicose approach to Taiwan.

 

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