Presidential Office in Taipei City
Presidential Office in Taipei City, Taiwan

Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) secured a second term in Taiwan’s presidential elections. Tsai gained 57.1% of the vote in contrast to her leading rival Han Kuo-yu of Kuominatang (KMT), who polled 38.6%. In a news conference after her landslide win she declared, “Taiwan is showing the world how much we cherish our free democratic way of life and how much we cherish our nation.”

Taiwan’s presidential election also saw voter turnout of 74.9%, the highest in nationwide elections since 2008. In the 2016 election 66% of the country’s eligible voters went to the polls.

An extraordinary victory

No other candidate since Taiwan’s first direct presidential election in 1996 has gained such a high number of votes. The BBC’s China correspondent, John Sudworth, describes President Tsai’s eight million votes as an “extraordinary tally for a Taiwanese President seeking a second term.” The DPP also look set to take a 61-seat legislative majority.

Taiwan is technically in an independent state with its own elected government, military and its own constitution. However, China views Taiwan as more of a breakaway province which will at some point return to Beijing’s rule. China often refuses relationships with other countries which recognize Taiwan’s independence and out of 193 UN members, 14 officially recognize Taiwan. Taiwan does retain trade links with many other countries.

Status quo for Taiwan?

Experts attribute Tsai’s victory mainly to young voters who hope that the government will continue to be strong in its dealings with Beijing. China is seeking unification with Taiwan – an approach that many Taiwanese do not favour.

Tsai’s Rival Han would have potentially brought closer ties between Taiwan and China which he has suggested would have economic benefits. But the KMT like the DPP are not looking for unification. Han has reportedly said that President Tsai and the DPP have harmed Taiwan’s economy by reducing reliance on China.

Since Tsai took office in May 2016, relations between Taiwan and China have deteriorated considerably. However, South China Morning Post reports observers as saying that China should not worry about a push for independence from Taiwan in the next four years.

Hard-line pro-independence and pro-unification parties failed to win seats in the legislate. The New Power Party, once hard-line pro-independence, lost two seats reducing it to holding three. Also, election contender James Soong Chu-yu of the pro-China People First Party gained only 4.2% of the vote.

Taiwan’s economy looks set to continue to grow

Under President Tsai the Taiwanese economy has grown for 14 consecutive quarters and the unemployment rate at an average of 3.8% is the lowest in two decades. But exports have also fallen, and wage growth is slow. The incumbent president is credited with bringing manufacturers back from overseas, potentially an offshoot of the US-China trade war.

Taiwanese companies based in China, as per Hong Kong Free Press, have committed $23 billion in investment in their homeland. The Taiwanese stock market has also just seen its best year for a decade. Rival Han argued that better relations in China would improve Taiwan’s long-term prosperity. China has been economically tough with Taiwan since President Tsai took office due to the DPP’s stance on independence.

Taiwan’s Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research (CIER) raised its forecast for Taiwan’s GDP growth for 2020 due to increased investment into Taiwan from its companies with overseas operations as well as due to positive impact on Taiwan from trade disputes.

CIER expects 2020 GDP growth for Taiwan to be 2.44% up from an earlier prediction of 2.34%. The research institute furthermore predicts Taiwan’s semiconductor industry, a major source of exports, to continue to expand. However other reports suggest that Taiwan may struggle to compete on chips with China, as it grows its own presence in the semiconductor market.