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Tsai Ing-wen Elected President of Taiwan, First Woman to Hold Office
Tsai Ing-wen was elected Taiwan's president on Saturday, becoming the first woman to win the office. Voters gave her Democratic Progressive Party, which is skeptical of closer ties with China, control of Taiwan's legislature for the first time, giving her broad authority to enact her policies in office.
"The results today tell me the people want to see a government that is willing to listen to people, that is more transparent and accountable and a government that is more capable of leading us past our current challenges and taking care of those in need," she said in a news conference outside her party's headquarters.
Her main opponent, Eric Chu of the governing party, Kuomintang, conceded just after 7 p.m. "I congratulate Chairman Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party on her victory," he said. "This is the choice of Taiwan's people."
With 99 percent of the polling places reporting results, Ms. Tsai had 56 percent of the vote to Mr. Chu's 31 percent, Taiwan's Central Election Commission said.
The campaign pivoted largely on economic issues, as growth in Taiwan has slowed significantly over the past year. Wages have stagnated and housing prices in major cities like Taipei have remained out of the reach of many people.
Voters also soured on the departing president, Ma Ying-jeou, and his policy of pursuing a closer relationship with China, Taiwan's giant neighbor, which considers Taiwan, a self-governed island, to be a part of its territory with which it must eventually be united.
On the night before the elections, speaking to a huge crowd of supporters on a boulevard across from Taiwan's Presidential Office Building, Ms. Tsai recalled the protests that filled the capital's streets in recent years. Those included demonstrations over the death of a young soldier and the Sunflower Movement, a student-led protest against the pursuit of a trade bill with China by the Kuomintang.
"Behind me is the presidential office," she said. "It's just a few hundred meters away from the people. But those inside the presidential office can't hear the voice of the people."
Ms. Tsai, who consistently held a wide lead in polls, will be only the second president not to belong to the Kuomintang, the party that ruled Taiwan as an authoritarian state until democratic reforms began in the late 1980s.
Her Democratic Progressive Party, known as the D.P.P., traditionally supports Taiwan's formal independence. The tenure of the previous D.P.P. president, Chen Shui-bian, who led Taiwan from 2000 to 2008, was marked by increased tension with China and concern that it would use military force against the island.
Ms. Tsai, who during a failed bid for president in 2012 was criticized by the Kuomintang as being unable to manage the relationship with China, pledged during this campaign to maintain the cross-strait status quo.
"Following the will of the Taiwanese people, we will work toward maintaining the status quo for peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait in order to bring the greatest benefits and well-being to the Taiwanese people," she said.
"I also want to emphasize that both sides of the strait have a responsibility to find mutually acceptable means of interaction that are based on dignity and reciprocity," Ms. Tsai added. "We must ensure that no provocations or accidents take place."
The head of China's Taiwan Affairs Office, Zhang Zhijun, said last month that "complicated changes are arising in the Taiwan situation" and warned "compatriots on both sides to be on alert for and oppose Taiwan independence."
But the Chinese government's response to these elections has been more muted than in the past, in part because previous efforts to influence Taiwan's politics only increased support for the parties China opposes, said Lin Jih-wen, a political scientist at Academia Sinica, a research institution in Taipei.
"They have learned from past experience that shouting against the Taiwanese will backfire," he said.
Mr. Lin said he did not expect China's leader, President Xi Jinping, to try to pressure a D.P.P. government too quickly.
"Xi Jinping is pretty much constrained by what he can do toward Taiwan," he said. "Xi is facing serious domestic challenges and people are waiting for him to make mistakes, so he has to be very careful."
Analysts expect Ms. Tsai to take a more cautious approach to China than did President Ma, who pushed through more than 20 agreements between the two sides. But she also wants to keep the cross-strait relationship stable, said Shelley Rigger, a professor of East Asian politics at Davidson College in North Carolina.
"Tsai Ing-wen doesn't want this to blow up," she said. "Washington doesn't want this to blow up; Beijing doesn't want this to blow up. So why should it blow up?"
With Taiwan's economy contracting over the last quarter, Ms. Tsai's first priority will be to revive growth. She has proposed developing regional industrial bases, including technology in Taiwan's north and advanced manufacturing in the center of the island. She has also emphasized the importance of expanding Taiwan's trade ties globally.
Mr. Chu, the Kuomintang candidate, argued that Taiwan needed to focus on trade and investment ties with China to revive its economy. That approach met with skepticism among voters worried about the possibility that China would use economic leverage to pursue its goal of bringing the island under its control.
Those concerns were reinforced on the eve of the election. Chou Tzu-yu, a 16-year-old Taiwanese member of a South Korean pop group, who has been criticized over a photo in which she is shown holding Taiwan's flag, bowed in apology in a video released by her agency. In the video, she declares, "There is only one China," and "I have always felt proud to be Chinese."
All three presidential candidates, including a third-party candidate, James Soong, said Ms. Chou should not have had to apologize. But many online critics derided Kuomintang politicians' expressions of support as hypocritical, given the party's push for closer China ties.
The party's campaign struggled in other ways, too. No prominent politician stepped forward to run against Ms. Tsai, and as the Kuomintang's initial nominee, Hung Hsiu-chu, trailed badly in the polls, she was replaced in October by Mr. Chu, the party secretary.
But Mr. Chu fared little better. His chances were further weakened by the candidacy of Mr. Soong, of the People First Party, a former Kuomintang member who has run for president twice before.
Analysts expected the D.P.P. to make strong gains in Taiwan's legislature and perhaps win control of it for the first time. If it gains power, the party is expected to pursue an investigation into abuses during the Kuomintang's years of rule, as well as the Kuomintang's acquisition of state and private property while it was in power.
"We will definitely investigate," said Fred Hung, an adviser to Ms. Tsai. "If we don't do anything on transitional justice, the voters will be very unhappy."
While gender did not play a major role in the campaign, there was clearly excitement among voters at the prospect of electing Taiwan's first female president, one whose path to power, unlike other female leaders in Asia, was not paved by a powerful father or other male relative.
"Taiwan has traditionally been a patriarchal society," said Rebecca Chang, 45, who stood with a friend by the side of the road with LED signs reading "Elect" and "Taiwan's First Woman President" as Ms. Tsai's campaign motorcade drove through Taipei on Friday. "She can help change people's thinking, no matter if they are male or female."
[Source: By Austin Ramzy, The New York Times, Taipei, 16Jan16]
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|This document has been published on 18Jan16 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.|