Tsai Ing-Wen has been re-elected as Taiwan’s president, as voters delivered a sharp rebuke to Beijing by choosing a leader who had campaigned on protecting their country from China.
As results came in on Saturday following a quiet day of voting in schools, temples, and community centres across the island, Tsai, of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), quickly established a lead over her opponent, Han Kuo-yu, of the Kuomintang, which promotes closer ties with China.
“With each presidential election, Taiwan is showing how much we cherish our free democratic way of life and how much we cherish our nation,” Tsai said in her victory speech in Taipei.
“This election result carries an added significance. They have shown that when our sovereignty and democracy are threatened the Taiwanese will shout our determination even more loudly back.”
Han conceded after Tsai garnered 8m votes, compared to Han’s 5.3m, with more than 80% of the votes counted.
“I have called Tsai and congratulated her. I did not work hard enough and failed everyone’s expectations,” he said.
57.2% 8,159,436 Tsai Ing-wen -DPP
38.6% 5,512,222 Han Kuo-yu - KMT
Her win, coming after bruising losses for her party in the 2018 mid-term elections, marks a dramatic comeback helped by a slowly-improving economy, missteps by the opposing party, and mass protests in Hong Kong that exposed what coming under Beijing’s authority might look like to many young Taiwanese.
Beijing claims Taiwan is an inalienable part of China that will be brought under its control by any means necessary, including force. Cross-strait ties have worsened over the last four years under Tsai, who opposes unification with China.
“This is a test of how much democracy and freedom have developed in Taiwan,” said Tek Dee, 36, who voted in Taipei. She said she had barely slept the night before due to anxiety about the election. “It’s a rejection of China’s attempts to swallow up or influence Taiwan.”
Taiwan came under military rule by the Kuomintang (KMT), formerly the governing power of China, after its leaders fled the country in 1949 ahead of advancing communists. Since martial law was lifted in 1987, it has gradually evolved into one of the most vibrant democracies in Asia. Although Taiwan enjoys de facto independence, it is recognised as a state by only 15 other countries.
On Saturday, residents also voted for district and at-large party representatives for the parliament.
Supporters of Han Kuo-yu, a populist candidate who has drawn comparisons to Donald Trump, were grim-faced and some were crying at the KMT’s headquarters in Taipei.