Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen has won a landslide second term in the country’s general election, beating her more China-friendly challenger Han Kuo-yu by a margin of nearly 20 percentage points.
With more than 99 per cent of ballots counted, Ms Tsai received 8.16m votes, the highest-ever count since Taiwan started directly electing its president in 1996. Her share of the vote was 57.1 per cent, compared with 38.6 per cent for Mr Han.
Ms Tsai’s resounding victory gives her a mandate to continue her prudent but resolute defence of Taiwan’s de facto independence against demands from Beijing that it submit to its control.
Votes in the parliamentary election were still being counted at 10pm, but according to preliminary figures from the Central Election Commission, Ms Tsai’s Democratic Progressive party had retained its majority in parliament.
“These results carry added significance. We have shown that when our sovereignty is under threat, the Taiwanese people will shout out our determination even louder,” Ms Tsai said.
“We hope that this election result can give the Chinese government an accurate message: The Taiwanese people reject ‘one country two systems’. We value our democratic lifestyle, and we defend our sovereignty,” she added.
China claims Taiwan as part of its territory and threatens to invade if the island resists unification indefinitely. A year ago, Chinese president Xi Jinping stressed in a speech on Taiwan policy that Beijing intended to use a “one country two systems” model for Taiwan — a proposal which the country’s public has firmly rejected for 30 years. The months-long protests in Hong Kong discredited the formula even further throughout Taiwan’s presidential campaign.
Ms Tsai, whose support was sluggish just a year ago, staged a resurgence after making it the central plank of her platform that Taiwan must be saved from a future like Hong Kong.
“China is always present to a certain extent in Taiwanese presidential elections, but this time that was much more pronounced,” said Shelley Rigger, a professor at Davidson College carrying out research in Taiwan.
Since Ms Tsai took office in 2016, Beijing has suspended government contacts and dialogue which it had conducted with her predecessor Ma Ying-jeou from the Kuomintang, the opposition party which originally came from China. Beijing has also stepped up efforts to internationally isolate Taiwan and intimidate it militarily, and tried to squeeze its economy by drastically limiting tourism trips to the island.
Ms Tsai said she expected pressure from China would continue and probably only intensify. But she appealed to Beijing to find more “healthy and sustainable ways of engagement”.
“If Beijing is willing to respect the will of the Taiwan public and recognise the fact of the existence of the Republic of China (Taiwan’s official name), and deal with Taiwan with peace and parity, then we are willing to restart dialogue and negotiations anytime,” she said. “What I am proposing is only fair and reasonable.”
As Ms Tsai’s victory became clear on Saturday night, Su Chih-fen, a DPP lawmaker, said: “We protected our country’s sovereignty with our votes, that is the most important thing.”
Mr Han from the opposition Kuomintang (KMT), had run a campaign promising to make “Taiwan safe and the people rich”. But he offered few concrete policies and focused on accusing the DPP of corruption and failed economic policies.
The KMT is China’s former ruling party which fled to Taiwan in 1949 after defeat in the Chinese Civil War. In contrast to the homegrown DPP, it holds that Taiwan is part of “One China,” although it does not agree with unification with the People’s Republic under Beijing’s terms.
Mr Han made himself a target for criticism from Ms Tsai and alarmed many voters by only hesitantly expressing support for the Hong Kong protesters and being slow to reject Mr Xi’s one country two systems push.
Mr Han congratulated Ms Tsai on her new mandate.
As vote counting got under way after polling stations closed at 4pm local time, a quickly swelling crowd of mostly young jubilant supporters assembled outside the DPP headquarters in downtown Taipei. Ms Tsai led the overall vote count from the very beginning, and every time updated figures were shown on a large screen, the crowd roared with approval.
“Victory is the best business!” said Wu A-hao, a snack vendor who said he had also had his stall at rallies of Mr Han before, but had voted for Ms Tsai.
At the KMT party headquarters, supporters of Mr Han became angrier as the electoral defeat became more evident.
KMT chairman Wu Den-yih announced that he and other senior party officials would offer their resignations next week.