He received about 40% of the vote. His main rival, the Kuomintang candidate Hou Yu-ih, got 33.4% of the vote, and admitted his defeat. The third candidate, Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) chief Ko Wen-je, won about 26.45% of the vote.
Lai, the winner, declared his victory and called the election process a triumph of democracy. The election was held from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., then vote counting began immediately. Voting was in-person only, no “remote” or mail-in ballots. The turnout was 69.8 percent. A local politician complained that about 2 million voters did not participate in the election. Numerous videos of the voting process can be seen on the Internet, people standing in lines at polling stations, election commissioners taking ballots out of ballot boxes one by one and showing them to commissioners and the press. And so on. Meanwhile, Taiwanese newspapers report that on the eve of the election, 200 people were arrested under the local Interference (China in Taiwanese Affairs) Act. And a total of about 3,500 people are under investigation for ties with mainland China and attempts to interfere in the election process.
During a press conference following the vote, Lai showed some change in approach to relations with the mainland, saying he was willing to dialog and cooperate with mainland China.
“I will follow the constitutional system of the Republic of China, be neither modest nor arrogant, maintain the status quo and, proceeding from reciprocity and respect, replace deterrence with exchange, confrontation with dialog, and will confidently carry out cooperation with mainland China as well as improve the welfare of people on both sides of the [Taiwan] Strait and pursue the goal of peace and common prosperity,” the DPP candidate said.
One can assume that this is roughly what Beijing expected and wanted to hear from him, given the DPP’s pro-American orientation. Lai added, however, that he is ready to defend Taiwan in the event of a military attack by Beijing. Although he knows very well that this is entirely up to him and his American masters. Only a declaration of Taiwan’s independence or intervention by a third force could lead to a military option.
All this suggests that nothing extraordinary has happened, the status quo will be maintained, and ties with mainland China, on which Taiwan’s well-being, if not life, depends, will grow stronger. Unless, of course, Washington suddenly decides that China urgently needs to be contained, sacrificing the population of distant Taiwan for this purpose.
The 64-year-old Lai will assume his new post on May 20. Notably, 52-year-old Hsiao Bi-khim, formerly head of Taiwan’s U.S. mission, will become vice president. A fairly popular politician in Taiwan.
In Washington on the eve of the election, bills directly affecting Taiwanese life were adopted. The first one obliges the US government to facilitate Taiwan’s entry into the International Monetary Fund. The second deals with sanctions against Chinese representatives in international financial institutions, in case China threatens Taiwan’s security. Both U.S. Democrats and Republicans voted in unison in favor of it, demonstrating the unity of the U.S. establishment on this issue. Expectedly, Lai was congratulated on his victory by US Secretary of State Blinken.
However, the second part of the elections — to the Taiwanese parliament — demonstrated the aggravation of the struggle, as well as the fact that at least a third of voters are ready to do almost anything to avoid confrontation with Beijing or even war.
For the first time since 2004, no party won a majority. Of the 113 seats, the Democratic Progressive took 51, the Kuomintang 52, and the Taiwan People’s Party 8. Two seats will go to independent candidates. The DPP lost 11 seats at once. This means that the party’s head of administration will have a tough time dealing with numerous domestic problems, including inflation, labor shortages, the consequences of severing some economic ties with the mainland and sanctions from Beijing. A week before the election, Cho Jung-tai, Lai’s (winning) campaign chief, said that if the DPP did not win a majority in parliament, it would «have limited power». That’s how it turned out. And if the two other opposition parties manage to somehow establish the cooperation that failed before the election, the DPP may not only lose its position as speaker of parliament, but also lose the ability to pass the laws it needs.
Beijing was rather restrained in its comments on the election results in Taiwan. Chen Binhua, a representative of the Chinese State Council Office for Taiwan Affairs, said: «Today’s elections in the Taiwan region have shown that the Democratic Progressive Party does not represent the mainstream opinion on the island. Taiwan is part of China». He also noted that the vote will not change the main vector of relations on both sides of the Taiwan Strait or stop the process of unifying the motherland. And he added that China’s stance on the issue is consistent and its will is «solid as a rock». Beijing will resolutely oppose actions aimed at achieving Taiwan’s independence and the interference of outside forces. And in doing so, the PRC will in every way contribute to the peaceful development of relations with Taipei and develop ties with all political forces and parties in Taiwan to promote cooperation.
These words were regarded in the Taiwanese and Western media as «condemnation» and «denial» of the «choice of the Taiwanese people». However, this is far from news. The misunderstanding of what Beijing is doing, as well as the deliberate distortion of its policies, is typical of the Western mainstream.