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Taiwan election: A victory for democracy as well as the DPP

Taiwan election: A victory for democracy as well as the DPP
Published 18 Jan 2016 

A triumphant Dr Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) claimed victory at the DPP headquarters in downtown Taipei after Saturday's election, telling tens of thousands of supporters:

Today we have illuminated Taiwan, we have shown the world once again with our actions that Taiwan is equal with democracy and that democracy is equal to Taiwan.

The DPP had, as expected, emphatically defeated the incumbent Kuomintang (KMT), but this was not the only significant result. The vote count also showed many electors are looking to alternative parties to represent their views, a trend which suggests that, as Tsai claimed, democracy is consolidating and evolving in Taiwan.

Tsai won 56.1% of the votes, compared to the 31% that went to Eric Chu from the Kuomintang (KMT) and the 12.8% for third party candidate James Soong from the People First Party (PFP). While the outcome was reversed, the share of votes that went to the victor was similar to former President Ma Ying-jeou’s historic victory over the DPP in 2008 when Ma won 58.4% of the vote (to Hsieh Chang-ting of the DPP’s 41.5%).

In 2008 however, there was no third party. In the presidential and vice presidential vote, electors that year were only able to choose between either the DPP or the KMT (although previous elections in 2000 and 1996 had four candidates splitting the vote).

By the time the 2012 presidential election came around (in which Tsai was also the DPP candidate) James Soong also ran. In the 2012 election Ma was re-elected with 51.6% of the votes, Tsai won 45.6% and 2.7% voted for Soong. However Saturday’s result showed Soong's share had increased to 13%. Soong, a former KMT politician, would have siphoned off votes from the KMT and not the DPP. Nevertheless, his considerable success indicates a trend within Taiwan of voters moving away from the two dominant parties. [fold]

The search for alternative parties is even more apparent when the results from the legislative elections (that also took place on Saturday) are taken into account. According to the Taiwan election commission, there were 354 candidates registered to compete for the 73 legislative seats, an increase of 30% on the 296 candidates who competed in 2012. This suggests a growing sense of frustration with the larger parties spawned new competition.

Saturday’s election saw a historic victory for the DPP winning 68 out of the 113 seats in the Legislative Yuan giving the party a majority for the first time. But it wasn't the only winner in the legislative elections with the New Power Party (NPP) exceeding expectations.

Civil activists founded the NPP in the aftermath of the 2014 Sunflower Movement. It won five legislative seats on Saturday and scored a major upset with NPP candidate Freddy Lim defeating incumbent KMT candidate Lin Yu-fang in Taipei 5, thought to be a KMT safe seat. NPP's other successful candidates include former academic researcher Hung Kuo-chang in New Taipei City 12, and civil activist Hung Tzu-yung who won the seat of Taichung 3. The NPP is now the third largest party in the legislature. Its victory in the elections represents the emergence of the third force in Taiwanese politics. The NPP appealed largely to youth voters who have become disillusioned with many of the policies of the two major parties.

While Tsai, now president-in-waiting, is the clear victor in Saturday’s election, there was perhaps one bigger winner – Taiwan’s democracy. Tsai’s election marks the third ‘turnover’ of the ruling party to the opposition in Taiwan’s democratic history. According to Samuel Huntington’s democratic theory, a democracy is only truly consolidated if it passes the ‘two turnover test'; with power peacefully transferred to the opposition and then back again. Taiwan reached this milestone in 2008 but this election result further strengthens the country's democratic credentials. Tsai’s victory and the increased vote for third parties has strengthened the people’s faith in Taiwan’s democratic credentials, and led to a greater sense of popular political empowerment.

Tsai’s victory marks another step in Taiwan’s democratic consolidation and maturation. The rise of alternative voices within Taiwan’s political landscape can only be positive as it leads to a more diverse and inclusive political environment.

Photo by Ashley Pon/Getty Images

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