Surya Gangadharan

Taiwan’s president-elect William Lai (left) and his running mate Bi-khim Hsiao who will be the island’s next vice-president. (Photo: @ChingteLai)

NEW DELHI: To China, he’s a “dangerous separatist” and “a troublemaker” but for William Lai Ching-te who led the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to an unprecedented victory in the polls in Taiwan on Saturday, it was all about democracy. As he put it: “We have shown the world how much we cherish democracy. We will continue to stand with all the democracies of the world.”

With that he summed up how different Taiwan was from China, underscoring his determination to ensure Taiwan remained separate and different from the mainland while keeping up cross-strait relations.

William Lai is not new to this game. As vice-president to current President Tsai-ing Wen whom he replaces, he’s been involved with every twist and turn of dealing with China’s intimidatory play. It was a point he stressed in remarks to the media after being declared the winner.

“The Taiwanese people have successfully resisted efforts by external forces to influence this election … we will continue to safeguard Taiwan from threats and intimidation … only the people of Taiwan have the right to choose their own president.”

But this election was less about China and more about domestic issues: the housing crisis, for instance, that has made housing unaffordable to large sections of the middle class, and stagnant living standards.

“The results have shown us that people expect effective governance and checks and balances. We fully understand and respect these opinions from the public.”

He said he would work on effective public communication and listen to feedback. He was willing to listen to ideas from across the political divide and ready to study opposition ideas and strategies on dealing with public grievances. He was ready, he said, to hire talented people regardless of their political orientation and promised his government would give priority to those issues where there was political consensus.

Critics would say William Lai is just playing to the moment but the results have underscored the deep divisions within Taiwanese society. With 51 seats in the 113-member parliament, his party has lost 10 seats and trails behind the pro-China KMT which won 52 seats. So, it would make sense for Lai to offer the olive branch to his opponents after a hard-fought election.

There’s also the threat posed by the rise of the TPP (Taiwan People’s Party), which with its slate of fresh faces won eight seats. The TPP is expected to use this victory to build its constituency and Lai may have his hands full given that the DPP and KMT are increasingly seen as “establishment parties”.


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