The Interpreter: Taiwan voters reject Beijing, but not populism

Moments after Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen secured a second term in a landslide election victory on Saturday, she took six questions from journalists. The first, from a BBC reporter, asked Tsai whether she had Chinese leader Xi Jinping to thank for her victory.

The question drew laughter and a smile from Tsai, who smoothly pivoted away, but it read the room: Tsai’s triumph, in which she won a record 8.2 million votes, has been broadly seen as a rejection of Beijing’s rampant pressure on Taiwan, the failure of “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong, and a growing distrust of her China-friendly opponent, the populist Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu.

Just one year ago, Tsai’s approval ratings were in the basement and Taiwan was enamored with Han, who was fresh off a shocking mayoral victory in the DPP stronghold of Kaohsiung in November 2018’s regional elections.

The analysis isn’t wrong, but it doesn’t tell the whole story: Han was a uniquely weak candidate whose vows to make Taiwan rich through expanded cross-strait trade were drowned out by Tsai and her ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which successfully capitalised on domestic fears of Beijing’s long reach when pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong brought the issue to the forefront.

It’s a tried and true strategy for the DPP, which has cast past elections as referendums of Taiwanese or Chinese identity. But beneath the presidential win, a complex legislative picture reveals some weaknesses within the party.

Full article by Nick Aspinwall:

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