Beyond DPP’s victory: Understanding the changing landscape of Taiwan’s politics

Dr. William Lai, the next Taiwanese president, has stated that the victory shows the “commitment of the Taiwanese people to democracy."

On January 13, Taiwan had arguably the most closely watched election in the history of Taiwan’s electoral politics. This election has been concluded with the victory of Dr. William Lai, representative of the DPP, as the country’s next president. Despite continuous efforts to promote the propaganda of a choice between ‘war and peace’ by the PRC, the people elected their next president ignoring the Chinese eyes. This was the first time in Taiwan’s electoral democracy that any political party pulled off a historic third consecutive presidential victory. Dr. William Lai, the next Taiwanese president, has stated that the victory shows the “commitment of the Taiwanese people to democracy.” Lai’s running mate, Hsiao Bi-Khim, who served as Taiwan’s envoy to the US, was elected as the next Vice President of Taiwan. As per the Central Election Commission of Taiwan, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) received only 40% of the total votes, while the Nationalist Party or Kuomintang candidate managed to secure 33.49%, and Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) candidate Ko Wen-Je received 26.45%. This data indicates that the election was a close-contested battle, and TPP, being a party since 2019, performed very well in this election. While many interpretations surround the fact that the result shows voters’ backing the continuity of the DPP’s view that Taiwan is not a part of mainland China, the result of the Taiwan legislative Yuan shows a different scenario. The people of Taiwan, though, chose DPP candidate Lai as the next president, but the DPP lost 10 seats in the Legislative Yuan, while the KMT gained 14 seats more in the legislature compared to the last election in 2020.

Democratic governance in Taiwan

Taiwan has a mix of presidential, parliamentary, and cabinet models based on the constitution promulgated in 1947. Functionally, Taiwan has more characteristics of a presidential system of governance since the political power largely resides in the KMT, in the initial years. Namely, Taiwan has a democratic system, but democratization in Taiwan was introduced first after the end of the longest-survived martial law in the Republic of China (ROC). The functioning of democracy and the implementation of the rule of law started after the lifting of restrictions on the forming of political associations. Interestingly, the amendment in the Taiwanese constitution in 2005 reduced the number of seats in the legislative Yuan from 225 to 113, and legislators’ terms were equated with the terms of presidents. That means, after every four years, the presidential and legislative elections would have been in the same year.

Under the new legislative election system, each district elects just one seat, and voters will have to cast two ballots, one for the district and the other for at-large seats. In the legislative Yuan, there are 34 seats as ‘at-large’ and six reserved seats for the indigenous population. Among the 113 seats in the legislature, the KMT won 52 seats and the DPP won 51 seats, which is an indication that a hung parliament may emerge, as no party has the majority of 57 seats in this election. However, they can gain seats only if either the DPP or KMT can convince the TPP to form a post-election coalition. There is more possibility of TPP for choosing balancing between the two major political parties. Considering the current scenario, the governance system in Taiwan will be more fragmented and complex. Though Taiwanese legislators have experience with legislative compromises and did it successfully even before 2008, but to succeed in the current scenario, juxtaposing the workings of legislative yuan and executive yuan is the need of the hour.

The post-election scenario in Taiwan

The post-election debates will require a thorough analysis of labor insurance policy and other youth-centric policy matters ranging from education to health to the real estate sector, which was extensively pitched by the parties during the election campaign. The overemphasizing of presidential elections has shadowed the crucial role of the legislature in a functional democracy like Taiwan. There is a ‘check and balance’ system between the legislature and executive wing of the Taiwanese government. Despite having fundamental differences between the political parties, the president’s consent is needed to acknowledge legislation. On the other side, the president’s appointments of the members for control yuan and judicial yuan are subject to the approval of the legislature, which are the two key branches of Taiwan’s democracy. While there is consensus on arms purchases for defending Taiwan, the amount and spending on them have different opinions among the different political parties. The budgetary upper hand of the legislative yuan may create a deadlock situation in the passing of the annual budget. Considering the narrow margin of seats between the DPP and KMT, whether they will be aligned for better policymaking or opposed to maintaining the differences in the parties’ stance, only time will say. The situation of boycotting parliamentary sessions can easily be predicted in the current circumstances. However, keeping in mind the people’s choice for balancing Taiwan’s independence with preserving stability in the cross-strait region, the DPP and KMT should adopt the middle path for future developments to match the people’s expectations.

Sanchaly Bhattacharya
Sanchaly Bhattacharya
The author completed her graduation in Geography and Economics from WBSU and opted for the PG Diploma in International Affairs and Diplomacy from IIGL. Currently, the author is pursuing her two master's degrees- one is in Public Administration from NSOU (correspondence) and another is in Diplomacy, law and business at Jindal School of International Affairs of O.P. Jindal Global University. The author's research area is focused on a comparative analysis of China and the US’s foreign policy, China-Taiwan economic dependence, India’s maritime security and strategic concern in the Indian Ocean, Indo-Pacific and its current volatility, and Japan’s potential investment in India’s SMEs.