Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party is elected the first female president in Taiwan’s history while her party secures an absolute majority in the legislature for the first time; Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Eric Chu resigns following the ruling party’s sweeping defeat; the fight for the KMT chairmanship has begun; Beijing says its policy toward Taiwan will not change; Taiwanese K-pop singer’s forced ‘apology’ for holding a Nationalist flag before the elections angers the nation; the Presidential Office pushes Tsai to form a new Cabinet after the Cabinet resigns en masse and discussions over the four-month caretaker period heat up; the New Power Party becomes the third largest party in Taiwan. Welcome to this week’s edition of the Insider.
► 2016 ELECTIONS
TSAI SCORES LANDSLIDE VICTORY: Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) won the presidency in Saturday’s elections in a landslide victory, obtaining 56.12 percent of the votes, while her Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) rival Eric Chu (朱立倫) garnered 31.04 percent and People First Party’s (PFP) James Soong (宋楚瑜) won 12.83 percent. The convincing margin will give Tsai, the first female president in Taiwanese history, a clear mandate to go forward. Her triumph was regarded as symbolic of growing public discontent with the KMT’s China-leaning policies and President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) performance.
In her speech after the results were announced, Tsai spoke of her respect for the people of Taiwan and expressed her gratitude for Chu and Soong. Tsai reaffirmed her commitment to cross-party collaboration and pledged to maintain political stability by working with the current government to complete the transition of power in the four months leading to the May 20 inauguration. Tsai reiterated that her administration would work to maintain the status quo for peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait while stressing that both sides of the Strait have a responsibility to find “mutually acceptable means” of interaction on the basis of dignity and reciprocity. “We must ensure that no provocations or accidents take place,” said Tsai, adding that, “any forms of suppression will harm the stability of cross-strait relations.”
The full text of Tsai’s speech is available here.
DPP SECURES MAJORITY IN LEGISLATURE: The DPP won an absolute majority in the legislature in Saturday’s elections — also a first in the nation’s history — with 68 seats in the 113-seat legislature. The KMT, which prior to the election held 64 legislative seats, retained only 35.
The New Power Party (NPP) became the third largest party with the five seats. Sunflower Movement leader Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷), however, announced his withdrawal from the NPP on Monday, a surprise move allegedly stemming from discontent fuelled by the lack of resources the party allocated to NPP Hsinchu City candidate Chiu Hsien-chih (邱顯智), whom Chen campaigned for.
Despite winning three at-large seats, the PFP, previously the second largest opposition party, failed to hold any district. Meanwhile, the Taiwan Solidarity Union lost all three of its at-large seats after failing to pass the 5 percent threshold for party votes. The newly formed Green Party-Social Democratic Party Alliance also failed to win any seat.
RECORD-LOW TURNOUT: Saturday’s voter turnout of 66.27 percent was the lowest in the six direct presidential elections since 1996, the Central Election Commission said. Some analysts attributed the low turnout to high discontent among traditional KMT supporters who chose to stay home instead. Others have pointed to similar downward trends among maturing democracies.
CHINA’S RESPONSE: China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said Beijing’s policy toward Taiwan would not change because of the election results, reiterating its adherence to the so-called “92 consensus” and its opposition to Taiwan independence. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs added that matters relating to Taiwan were an “internal matter” for China. Chinese state-run media further stressed Beijing’s stance on “one China,” with the official Xinhua news agency saying any move toward independence would act like “poison” and cause Taiwan to perish. The Global Times, published by the Chinese Communist Party’s People’s Daily, warned that Taiwan would “meet a dead end” if Tsai’s administration sought to “cross the red line” the way that former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) did.
CHU RESIGNS AS KMT CHAIRMAN: KMT chairman and presidential candidate Eric Chu stepped down as head of the KMT on Saturday following the KMT’s defeat in the election by the second-largest margin since Taiwan held its first direct presidential election in 1996. Chu, who conceded defeat before the vote counting was completed, apologizing to his supporters for failing to live up their expectations. In his concession speech, Chu also pledged to reflect on the KMT’s defeat and the party’s failure to be in sync with public opinion, vowing to re-evaluate the party’s policy direction and its selection of personnel. Chu has appointed party’s vice chairperson Huang Min-hui (黃敏惠) as its interim chairperson on Sunday following his resignation, saying he would never forget that the KMT lost power under his governance.
Before vote counting was completed on Saturday night, KMT spokesman Yang Wei-chung (楊偉中) announced his resignation as the gap between Chu and Tsai continued to widen. Premier Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國) announced his resignation late on Saturday night, adding that he would not accept any attempt to have him remain in his post.
Deputy Legislative Speaker Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱), whose presidential candidacy was taken over by Chu three months before Saturday’s elections, announced on Wednesday that she intends to compete for the post of KMT chairperson. Several other KMT members, including former KMT vice chairman Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌), who stepped down as vice KMT chairman, Vice President Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), President Ma, former Taichung mayor Jason Hu (胡志強) and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng, have reportedly expressed interest in the post.
Meanwhile, a group of young KMT members announced on Tuesday the launch of a “Grassroots Cooperation Alliance” (草協聯盟) which will aim to transform the party via a “guerrilla reformative project.” The alliance will seek to address issues such as intra-party democracy, call for reforms (particularly of the KMT’s chairperson election) and its controversial party assets, as well as a debate on its cross-strait policies. Some party members have also suggested dropping the zhong guo (中國) prefix in the KMT’s official name (中國國民黨). The increasingly marginal pro-unification New Party immediately responded by saying that if the prefix were dropped by the KMT, it (New Party) would seek to re-register under the name…Chinese Nationalist Party.
WORLD LEADERS CONGRATULATE TSAI: Congratulations from foreign governments poured in after Tsai swept to power in a landslide election victory on Saturday. The White House offered its congratulations to Tsai, saying the U.S. “maintain[s] a profound interest in the continuation of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday congratulated Tsai as Taiwan’s new president, while Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the Japanese government would continue to maintain unofficial, substantive ties with Taiwan based on its long-standing views, adding that Japan “welcomes” Taiwan’s interest in joining the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) initiative.
The European Parliament Taiwan Friendship Group also issued a statement congratulating Tsai on her election, lauding the election outcome as representing Taiwan’s mature and stable democracy. Several other countries, including Canada, France, the Philippines, Singapore and Australia, also issued congratulations. The Brussels-based Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) also congratulated Tsai on her victory.
US REACTIONS: U.S. Republican presidential hopeful Senator Marco Rubio commented on Taiwan’s elections, saying Taiwan was charting a democratic course that China might eventually follow. U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward Royce also promised that his committee would work toward a strengthened security relationship and the inclusion of Taiwan in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in a letter to Tsai. David Feith of the Wall Street Journal lamented that no Democratic candidate in the U.S. elections issued a statement about Tsai’s victory. Ted Cruz, another Republican candidate, also commented, saying that the Taiwanese citizens’ “tenacious witness to the promise of liberty is a beacon of light to their neighbors yearning to be free. America honors our friend and ally today.”
Describing Saturday’s outcome as a result of “growing skepticism about engaging with China,” former American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) chairman Richard Bush said the KMT’s decisive defeat should “induce Beijing to reconsider its hardline stance.”
K-POP STAR’S APOLOGY STIRS ANGER: The tearful apology of Chou Tzuyu (周子瑜), a Taiwanese member of Korean K-pop group TWICE, in which she stressed that “there is only one China” in a video released on the night before Saturday’s elections may have boosted votes for Tsai by 1 to 2 percentage points, said Michael Hsiao (蕭新煌), a research fellow at Academia Sinica’s Institute of Sociology. Many Taiwanese regarded Chou’s apology as a manifestation of Taiwan’s predicament of national identity in the face of Beijing’s threat, a possible reason that some shifted their votes to Tsai against the China-leaning KMT.
A survey conducted by Taiwan Thinktank after the Jan. 16 elections found that 11.9 percent of voters in the constituency legislative elections said their voting decision was affected by the “Chou incident.”
Chou was forced to apologize for holding a Republic of China (ROC) flag in a South Korean TV show, which China-based Taiwanese singer Huang An (黃安) said indicated her support for Taiwan independence. The allegation prompted the suspension of her commercial activities in China, a key market for the group, and jeopardized the group’s endorsement deal with China’s Huawei Technologies Co (華為).
In her post-election press conference, Tsai Ing-wen said that the Chou incident was a reminder to her about the importance of Taiwan’s strength and unity to those “outside its borders.” China’s Taiwan Affairs Office described the incident as “being used by some political forces in Taiwan to “stir up the feelings of people across the Taiwan Strait,” and urged people to “be vigilant” over this. Huang has made a name for himself by informing the Chinese government and netizens about what he regards as independence-leaning Taiwanese individuals and their activities. Despite the rhetoric, Chinese authorities appear to have suspended Huang’s Weibo account and songs featuring Chou have reappeared in Chinese television.
► ELSEWHERE IN POLITICS
DPP, US EXCHANGE DIPLOMATIC VISITS: Tsai Ing-wen met with former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and AIT Chairman Ray Burghardt on Monday, highlighting her administration’s commitment to maintain close, friendly relations with the U.S. and promote bilateral cooperation in all areas. Burns said the U.S. looks forward to a smooth transition to the new administration and hopes for further cooperation and exchanges with the new administration. Burns’ visit to Taiwan following Saturday’s elections was scheduled in accordance with customary practices and is aimed at expressing the U.S.’ support for Taiwan’s democracy, the AIT said.
DPP Secretary General Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) left for Washington on the same day. Wu described his trip as “routine,” and denied that he would deliver any message from Tsai to the U.S. and offered no further details about the visit.
CABINET RESIGNS EN MASSE: Premier Mao Chi-kuo announced on Monday that the Cabinet was resigning en masse despite President Ma’s opposition earlier in the day. Some analysts regarded this as a move coordinated with Ma to pressure president-elect Tsai Ing-wen to accept Ma’s offer for her to form a new cabinet during the four-month transition period before the May 20 presidential inauguration. Tsai had turned down the proposal due to concerns over accountability before she is sworn in. The Presidential Office on Wednesday said that Tsai should reconsider Ma’s proposal as “this would be the only way to ensure a smooth transition.”
Mao reportedly refused to meet Ma at his (Mao’s) residence and insists on resigning. He has taken a leave of absence until the end of the month. Vice Premier Simon Chang (張善政) will serve in his place until the resignations take effect, Cabinet spokesman Sun Lih-chyun (孫立群) said.
DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) had suggested that the first item on the agenda of the new legislature when it opens next month is likely to be a draft bill to facilitate the nation’s transition of political power. The DPP said on Tuesday that as the government enters the post-election caretaker period, activities regarding major policies should be suspended until the new legislature convenes, a principle to be applied to the negotiation of the trade in goods agreement with China that should wait for the institutionalization of a cross-strait agreement oversight mechanism.
TAIWAN ‘CARD’ AGAINST CHINA: The next U.S. president should threaten to restore official ties with Taiwan to get Beijing to back down on its expansionism, former U.S. ambassador to the UN John Bolton, who has a reputation for being controversial, wrote in an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal.
TOP LEGISLATIVE OFFICIAL UNDER PROBE: Prosecutors on Tuesday raided executive offices at the legislature and detained Legislative Yuan Secretary-General Lin Hsi-shan (林錫山), a close aide to Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-Pyng (王金平), in a corruption investigation. Political analysts said the search, which was launched without prior notice to Wang, could be part of an attempt by President Ma to force Wang out of the new legislature on account of the longstanding rivalry between the two politicians. Wang’s vacancy would allow Presidential Office Secretary-General Tseng Yung-chuan (曾永權) to be added to the party’s party list. Some KMT central standing committee members have singled out Wang for failing to attract votes for the ruling party and said he should be held responsible for the party’s loss in Saturday’s elections. Wang on Tuesday dismissed rumors that he will resign as legislative speaker.
FUTURE LEGISLATIVE SPEAKER: The DPP’s newly elected at-large legislator and President-elect Tsai’s campaign manager Su Jia-chyuan (蘇嘉全) said on Sunday that he did not rule out the possibility of running for speaker if his party wants him to join the race. Former Chiayi County councilor Chen Ming-wen (陳明文) and DPP legislative caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘), who was elected to his eighth term as legislator on Saturday, have both “expressed interest” in the position.
PROBE IN MA’S ALLEGED CORRUPTION: The Taipei Clean Government Committee said on Monday it would request the Ministry of Justice investigate alleged violations by President Ma during his time as Taipei mayor in the Taipei Dome case, a move that Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) denied was politically motivated.
THINK TANK CALLS FOR KMT LOCALIZATION: The Taiwan Brain Trust think tank urged on Sunday that KMT to be “localized” as the ruling party’s heavy defeat reflected voters’ distrust in its China-leaning policies, adding that Beijing should take a more practical approach in its handling of cross-strait relations.
TAIWAN NOT ‘RENEGADE PROVINCE’: The U.S.-based Foreign Policy magazine recently took issue with some foreign media’s use of the term “renegade province” to refer to Taiwan, saying the phrase is neither employed by Taipei nor Beijing.
PROPOSAL FOR GOVERNMENT OFFICE RELOCATION: The Presidential Office should be relocated to Tainan to balance Taiwan’s development, said Tainan Mayor William Lai (賴清德) as he argued for the relocation of multiple central government agencies from Taipei to other areas. Lai of the DPP was joined on Monday by Taichung Mayor Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) of the same party, who said that the administration of president-elect Tsai Ing-wen should consider moving the legislature to his city.
VOTE-BUYING IN TAINAN: The Tainan District Court on Thursday found Tainan City Council Speaker Lee Chuan-chiao (李全教) guilty of vote-buying during his campaign for city councilor in late 2014. If the decision is upheld by the higher courts, Lee, a KMT stalwart, could be stripped of his positions as councilor and council speaker.
► MILITARY & SECURITY
HARRIERS SALE TO TAIWAN? The U.S. could offer to sell refurbished AV-8B Harrier Jump Jets to Taiwan through the Pentagon’s Excess Defense Articles (EDA) program under the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency, Defense News reports. Experts, however, voiced opposition to such an acquisition, saying that the refurbishment costs for the aged aircraft would be too high, while their limited operational range, as well as inability to engage in air-to-air combat, did not meet the requirements of the Taiwanese air force.
MND PLAYS DOWN PLA DRILLS: The Ministry of National Defense (MND) on Thursday said it was monitoring the situation in the Taiwan Strait and denied reports that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was conducting large-scale military drills in Fujian Province as a show of force in response to Taiwan’s presidential and legislative elections. The ministry spokesman said footage of the said exercises shown on state-run Chinese media was from exercises conducted in 2015.
The Taiwan Insider is a weekly feature prepared by the Thinking Taiwan Foundation’s Chris Wang, Serena Chuang and staff members. Comments? Leads? You can reach us at email@example.com. Click here to subscribe to the Insider and receive it in your e-mail.
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