Women in Politics: The Patterns in Asia

Tsai Ing-wen and Hung Hsiu-chu are likely the first cases in Asia of viable presidential or prime ministerial candidates who cannot rely on political familial ties
Photo: J. Michael Cole / Thinking Taiwan
Timothy Rich

With Tsai Ing-Wen (蔡英文) of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) as the likely Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) candidate, Taiwan is poised to have its first female president following the 2016 election. At a time when Americans consider the possibility of their first female president in Hilary Rodham Clinton, the Taiwanese case of two female candidates appears unusual even in Western democracies. However, female presidents and prime ministers are not unusual in Asia, a trend that is often ignored in the west.

One only need to look at the last 15 years to find examples at the national level, with women holding the office of president or prime minister in Bangladesh, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, and most recently in South Korea. As I addressed in a paper with Elizabeth Gribbins earlier last year, the pattern of female candidates in Asia challenges several assumptions. Whereas Muslim majority countries in the Middle East see the lowest rate of female (elected or appointed) officials, Muslim majority countries in Asia have elected several women as president or prime minister, starting with Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan in 1988, followed by Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Malaysia. Furthermore, where women globally have been more successful in parliamentary over presidential systems, no such pattern is seen in Asia.

In one aspect, Taiwan is a clear outlier among Asian democracies. In all past cases where an Asian country popularly elected a female president or prime minister, the female candidate in question had strong familial ties either to a former elected leader or to one of the major leaders of the democratization movement. The pattern is stark: countries as diverse as India (Indira Gandhi), Sri Lanka (Srimavo Bandaranaike), the Philippines (Corazon Aquino and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo), Indonesia (Megawati Sukarnoputri), Thailand (Yingluck Shinawatra) and South Korea (Park Geun-hye) have all elected women at the national stage, but in every case the woman was the daughter, wife, widow, or sister of a former leader. To put in context, only three similar cases are seen anywhere else in the post-World War II era: Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (Argentina), Janet Jagan (Guyana) and Mireya Moscoso (Panama).

Tsai and Hung thus, to the best of my knowledge, provide the first cases in Asia of viable presidential or prime ministerial candidates without such familial ties. Unlike the other cases, they can neither rely on the legacy of their male relative to draw electoral support nor do they have to deflect criticism regarding the policies of their predecessor. A cursory view further suggests greater opportunities for female candidates in Taiwan compared to their regional counterparts. In 2012, 33.6% of seats in the Legislative Yuan were awarded to female candidates, the highest since democratization, dwarfing their neighbors South Korea (16.3%) and Japan (9.5%) and above the average in Asia of only 19% of seats in lower houses or countries with a unicameral legislature.

While far from gender parity, this suggests a growing political space for female candidates across the political spectrum in Taiwan.


Timothy S. Rich is an assistant professor in political science at Western Kentucky University. His main research focuses on the impact of electoral reforms in Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan compared to similar legislative systems (e.g. Germany, New Zealand). His broader research interests include electoral politics, domestic and international politics of East Asia, and qualitative and quantitative methods.

8 Responses to “Women in Politics: The Patterns in Asia”

June 25, 2015 at 4:02 pm, Peter Huang said:

Peter Huang
Just now ·
Feedback: Women in Politics: The Patterns in Asia
Hung’s final decision to be the candidate of KMT presidential campaign is on July 19, 2015 after the party assembly to approve it. If no other candidate out or willing to accept enlisted by party then there is no way that the party will deny Hung’s candidacy. Speaker Wang did reveal that he would accept enlist before. If his enlisting is success then Hung’s candidacy may be denied, for the party lacks of confidence to her popularity.
If Wang is enlisted, he has more power to deal with Cai than that of Hung, but still can not overcome Cai’s popularity. Hence there is a way that if Wang to be the running mate of Cai, then it can smooth the situation that Cai not only taking over presidency but also possible the majority of congress. At this situation Wang’s KMT wants to be the underdog in congress? It had better make both parties into New KMT, as suggested by certain scholar. By that way the notorious KMT party property derived from National Treasure can be trimmed smoothly, returning it to the Treasure.
If congress is controlled by DPP, and KMT would like to be underdog then DPP has much work to do: to trim KMT’s party property to return to the Treasure, to push the case through covered by party-judicial type to justify the case, such as taking improper property from companies, as it meant greedy and corruption.


June 27, 2015 at 2:46 pm, Peter Huang said:

Feedback:Women in Politics: The Patterns in Asia

A jar with accent in the show window.

Hung criticizes that Tsai’s “Maintain Status-Que” is nothing but like an empty jar without content. To add accent into the jar she stresses that she would like to have an agreement with The PROC. She suggested the agreement would cover “1992-consensus” that recognizes “One China policy”. The consensus asserts that One China Policy but may have different presentation. She wants to revise it into One China Policy and the same presentation. By this way if there is different versions to an issue it must be made into the same version. Can The PROC accept Hung’s version if different opinions existed?

I think the accent in Hung’s jar can be put into show window only. If Hung wants to put the accent into force, adding it into food as ingredient it would suffer the same fate as 9-on-one election in last year, which the KMT setback into among 6 major cities only won one, New Taipei City, which the loss, You, the former DPP chair and once a prime minister, said though he got loss but felt very glory. It implies that there is untold story in it. By private statistics that the loss still 20,000 votes more than the winner. If true, then the only city the KMT won would look like the only piece the wrestler have, which was gifted by You.

The PROC has 1500 missiles pointing to Taiwan can Hung’s pondering agreement with PROC omitting this article into it? If it should be covered in it, can Hung asks it must withdraw far away to avoid threatening to Taiwan? If PROC does not want to do that favor for Hung, by her “One China with same presentation” would Hung accept it related to Taiwan’s safety? By Hung’s Taiwan’s dignity must be esteemed or there is no way to engage into getting along with the PORC, then its “agreement” seems established on vanity. Why not its “agreement” is worse than Tsai’s jar waiting to fill?

Should the KMT’s policy be not so stint it would never loss so much. If Hung wants to continue that policy its fate possibly would repeat its history.


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