Comfortable Lai win in Taiwan’s election but he is first president to be elected without a majority for more than 20 years

Beijing’s initial response to result is low key, saying it will not change its commitment to reunification and asserted that Lai’s failure to win majority means he does not represent mainstream opinion in Taiwan

Lai Ching-te’s victory in Taiwan’s presidential election on Saturday was historic, making his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) the first party to win three successive terms in office. Although the three-way contest was closely fought, Lai won with a comfortable seven-point margin over the Koumintang’s (KMT) Hou Yu-ih.

But a strong performance by the third candidate Ko Wen-je meant that Lai won with just over 40 per cent of the vote, making him Taiwan’s first president to be elected without a majority for more than 20 years. The DPP also lost its majority in the legislative yuan, Taiwan’s parliament, where the KMT won a plurality, leaving Ko’s Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) holding the balance of power.

Taiwan’s first democratic presidential election was less than 30 years ago but Saturday’s vote was a model of transparent democratic practice. At count centres open to the public, election workers held each ballot up for everyone to see as they called out who it was for and it was marked up on a whiteboard.

The unsuccessful presidential candidates conceded defeat and congratulated Lai just four hours after the polls closed. Lai told them that together they had shown the world how much Taiwan cherishes its democratic way of life.


Lai promised on Saturday to continue president Tsai Ing-wen’s policy of closer relations with the United States, diversifying the economy away from mainland China and stressing Taiwan’s separate identity. This policy has seen relations with Beijing deteriorate to the point that dialogue across the Taiwan Strait has effectively ground to a halt.

When Tsai won almost 58 per cent of the vote in 2020, she could claim a popular mandate for her policy towards the mainland. But on Saturday almost 60 per cent of voters chose candidates who said the policy was dangerous and provocative, and called for a more emollient approach to cross-strait relations.

Beijing’s initial response to the result on Saturday was low key, saying it would not change its commitment to reunification and asserting that Lai’s failure to win a majority meant he did not represent mainstream opinion in Taiwan. The Chinese foreign ministry issued angrier statements later after US secretary of state and some other western foreign ministers congratulated Lai, which it said was a breach of agreements not to recognise Taiwan diplomatically.

Recent months have seen a thaw in relations between Washington and Beijing, and Joe Biden repeated on Saturday that the US does not support Taiwanese independence. In Taipei on Sunday there was some optimism that relations with Beijing would not get any worse under Lai but little hope that they will improve.

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