When the people of Taiwan go to the polls this Saturday, relations with mainland China will not be the only issue they will deal with. The 2022 midterm elections revolve around issues of local administration, and the country faces many internal challenges. However, in a presidential election, Taiwanese voters ultimately have the possibility to choose the candidate they believe will allow Taiwan to maintain its democratic political system and its de facto independence from China.
The two main political parties in Taiwan are the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which is currently in government, and the Kuomintang (KMT), also called the Chinese Nationalist Party. Although the PDP is considered center-left and the KMT center-right, Taiwan’s two-party system is defined by independence versus unification. The pro-unification stance of the KMT, which is not new, helped give the PDP victory in the last two elections.
Since 2022, when Nancy Pelosi made the first visit by a president of the US Congress to Taiwan in a quarter of a century, we have witnessed the rise of Chinese military threats to the island. However, the Taiwanese population remains undaunted. Ahead of the 10-day pre-election period during which poll information is restricted, the PDP’s new candidate, incumbent Vice President Lai Ching-te, is slightly ahead of his opponent. Lai is more conservative than outgoing President Tsai Ing-wen, although she may continue her moderate policies on relations with China, maintaining the status quo and avoiding any move toward formal independence that would anger China. . .
The KMT has said that if elected, it would restore free trade to the mainland and allow Chinese investment in Taiwan’s service sector, posing a potential threat to Taiwan’s political independence and leading to self-censorship of companies. . These policies were not popular with the public; Opposition to past trade agreements was the spark that sparked the Sunflower Movement in 2014.
The political superiority of the relationship with China makes it difficult to debate the internal problems facing the country, such as the difficulty of young people to find affordable housing or the aging of the population. When it comes to solving these issues, the two parties have closer political approaches. In fact, each party accuses the other of stealing ideas on how to solve demographic and socioeconomic challenges. (The main internal issue on which the two parties differ is nuclear energy; the KMT is in favor of reinstating it, while the PDP is resistant because of the frequency of earthquakes on the island.)
During his presidency, Tsai governed as a neoliberal technocrat. It introduced changes in labor legislation that ended decades of reforms favorable to the working class, it restricted public holidays and promoted the transformation of the public railway company into a capitalist company. On the other hand, it also introduced some progressive changes in society. During its two mandates, Taiwan legalized gay marriage and sought forgiveness, on behalf of the State, from the island’s indigenous people. It got the support of the US and other Western countries. Lai, on the other hand, is closer to the right of the party and it is possible that PDP conservatives will be bold during his presidency and reverse some of these changes.
After the success of the Sunflower Movement, there were activists who tried to launch new parties and political organizations that offered a progressive alternative to the PDP, but these attempts fizzled out in the last five years due to fears that the division of vote will happen. facilitate the KMT’s return to power. The PDP is consciously stoking these fears to capture the votes of sectors that are attracted to these alternatives.
The future of the PDP is unclear. Past election cycles have seen successive groups of young progressive candidates emerge from the ranks of the party, along the lines of US Squad women. The current version, called Generation, is made up of former Sunflower Movement activists such as Lai Pin-yu, Wu Cheng and one of Taiwan’s first openly gay politicians, councilwoman Miao Poya. It remains to be seen if the young progressive politicians will be able to organize themselves as a force within the PDP. First they have to win this election.