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A close race in Taiwan could decide whether it prioritizes sovereignty or closer ties with China

Taiwan votes in a general election on Saturday. The top issue on the ballot is the island's relationship with China, with stakes that could affect the whole Asia Pacific. 

The World

Taiwan goes to the polls on Saturday to elect its next president and all 113 members of its Legislative Yuan.

The top issue on the ballot is the island’s relationship with China, with stakes that could have consequences for the entire Asia-Pacific region.

Lev Nachman, a political scientist at National Chengchi University, said that no matter what the outcome is, the election marks the end of the Tsai Ing-wen era in politics and cross-strait relations.

“We’re not going to have the same president who we’ve come to know for their pragmatic and moderate policy, and instead, we’re going to have somebody new.”

But that someone new may still be from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which favors Taiwanese sovereignty from China. Presidential candidate William Lai Ching-te, the current vice president, is slightly favored to win the election.

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Thousands gather in front of the presidential office building in downtown Taipei for a rally to support Taiwan's ruling party, the Democratic Progressive Party, on Thursday. 

Credit:

Ashish Valentine/The World 

Political scientist Wen-ti Sung is in Taiwanese studies at Australian National University in Australia. He said he believes that even if Lai wins, he may still lose the DPP’s legislative majority to a combined alliance of the two main opposition parties. Sung said this scenario would make governing difficult.

“If you feel that we've done a good job in the past eight years and made Taiwan better, please vote for the DPP and let the experienced team continue our work,” Lai said at a Thursday rally. “We will definitely do better.”

Jenny Li was at that rally with her whole family. She lives in Miami now, but Taiwan doesn’t allow absentee voting, so she flew back just to vote.

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Jenny Li came to Thursday's rally to support the Democratic Progressive Party along with her family. She flew back to Taiwan from Miami to vote in Saturday's election, since Taiwan does not allow absentee voting. Li she was happy to do it to protect Taiwan's democracy, and the future of her children and grandchildren. 

Credit:

Ashish Valentine/The World 

Li, who held her baby granddaughter in her arms, said the trip was worth it to help protect Taiwan from China.

“For me, it’s not about being expensive, or anything else. I just want to do the right thing for my kids and my grandkids.”

Johnson Chen, who was also at the rally, said that he supports the ruling party because they legalized marriage equality in 2019; he especially likes the party’s vice presidential candidate, Hsiao Bi-khim.

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Johnson Chen (right) at Thursday's rally for the Democratic Progressive Party. Chen supports the DPP because he sees them as leaders on LGBTQ rights. 

Credit:

Ashish Valentine/The World 

“Hsiao Bi-khim in 2006 has already pushed for gay rights. That’s really early.”

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Supporters of third-party presidential candidate Ko Wen-je and the Taiwan People's Party join a parade in Da'an Forest Park, in central Taipei on Friday.

Credit:

Ashish Valentine/The World 

The main opposition to the ruling party is the Chinese Nationalist Party or KMT. A few miles south on Friday, they held a thousands-strong rally for their presidential candidate Hou You-ih.

The KMT advocates closer ties with China. The party’s presidential candidate Hou pitches himself as the best option to prevent war.

Hou, speaking at the rally in Taiwanese Hokkien, said he wants to put Taiwan on a middle path without provoking China, while protecting the constitution and Taiwan’s future.

This year’s election also includes a strong third-party candidate — former Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je who says he has a more rational approach than the two traditional parties.

“We shouldn’t pin Taiwan’s security on [the Chinese leader,] Xi Jinping’s personal goodwill,” he said at a press conference on Friday.

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Supporters of third-party presidential candidate Ko Wen-je and the Taiwan People's Party join a parade in Da'an Forest Park, in central Taipei on Friday.

Credit:

Ashish Valentine/The World 

Jill Hsu, a young person who talked from a bench in Da’an Forest Park, a respite from the politicking, said she used to support the ruling party. But she said that they haven’t kept their promises on the social safety net and building enough affordable social housing for young people.

“Even if we work for 50 years, we still can't afford to buy a house in Taiwan.”

Hsu said she wants to give another party a chance to solve the housing crisis, which she said that both major parties have left by the wayside.

Hsu’s views represent tension between millennials and Gen Z in Taiwan.

Nachman said millennials supported the Sunflower Movement in 2014, which opposed a trade deal with China and brought the ruling party to power.

“It’s why people who are 18-25, Gen Z, don't have that same connection; they don’t see the DPP in the same sympathetic lens as millennials because they didn’t grow up with the Sunflower Movement,” Nachman said.

man on bench

Yang Shi-wei relaxes on a park bench at Da'an forest park on Friday. He's a lifelong voter for the Chinese Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang (KMT) and says he thinks the KMT is the best choice to negotiate with China on what he feels is a basis of a shared Chinese identity.  

Credit:

Ashish Valentine/The World 

Yang Shi-wei, also in the park, said that he’s voted KMT his whole life, and he’ll do so again. He said that he was born in Taiwan and loves it dearly, but identifies as a Chinese person. He trusts the KMT to maintain good relations with China by not leaving behind a shared Chinese identity.

“Today, Taiwan wants to be independent. I don’t support that. Look at me sitting in this park and seeing this scenery. There is no war. War is not good for us. I just hope that our next generation can be well-educated and raised in a safe place in Taiwan.”

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