Taiwan’s voters handed the long-ruling Nationalists a historic defeat on Saturday, kicking the party of Chiang Kai-shek out of the presidential palace and stripping it and its allies of a parliamentary majority for the first time since the island’s modern political period began in 1949. But even as President-elect Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party proclaimed that a “new era” was dawning on the island of 23 million, the biggest question mark hanging over the incoming administration and legislature was how it would deal with the sensitive subject of relations with mainland China. Tsai, a 59-year-old lawyer-turned-politician with advanced degrees from U.S. and British universities, was elected with 56% of the vote, becoming Taiwan’s first female president and trouncing the Nationalist Party’s Eric Chu, who got just 31%.
Chu became his party’s candidate only three months before election day, after the Nationalists dumped their initial nominee, Hung Hsiu-chu, who was trailing badly in opinion polls. Third-party candidate James Soong garnered nearly 13%.
The landslide for Tsai and the DPP was a repudiation of the Nationalists, whose campaign had emphasized incumbent Ma Ying-jeou’s pursuit of closer trade and tourism ties with China. Ma, who could not run again after eight years in office, has argued that his overtures toward the mainland had boosted the self-ruled island’s economy and reduced tensions with Beijing.
The Chinese Communist Party regards Taiwan as a breakaway province that must ultimately be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary, and the Nationalists had stressed “stability” in cross-strait relations as a centerpiece of the campaign.