Taiwan's imminent elections on 13th January are unfolding amidst intensified tensions in the Taiwan Strait, underscoring the critical focus on the island's relationship with China, national security concerns, and pressing economic issues like inflation and stagnant wages. These elections bear significant implications and for both domestic policymaking and international relations, impacting organisations operating in-country.
The electoral outcomes hold the potential to elevate global conflict risks, particularly concerning cross-Strait relations. Monitoring the political landscape becomes imperative as shifts in voting intentions, undecided voter influence, and external interference could sway the course.
Who is in the running to be the next president?
William Lai (Democratic Progressive Party - DPP):
- Ruling party which advocates for a robust Taiwanese identity and aligns with progressive socio-economic stances.
- Embraces closer ties with the United States over China.
- Stance with China has softened over the years, and now favours maintaining the status quo in relations, although leads the Pan-Green coalition, broadly supporting a more nationalist Taiwanese identity and opposes reunification with China.
Hou You-yi (Kuomintang - KMT):
- Originated from the Chinese mainland and gradually transitioned Taiwan towards democracy.
- Historically supported reunification with China but now prioritises status quo maintenance and peaceful relations with China.
- Leads the Pan-Blue coalition, advocating stronger ties or potential unification with China.
Ko Wen-je (Taiwan People’s Party - TPP):
- Represents a third choice for voters discontented with the DPP and KMT.
- Attracts younger, less ideologically inclined voters, seeking to provide a political alternative to the Pan-Blue and Pan-Green coalitions.
- TPP’s stance on crucial issues, especially cross-Strait ties, remains ambiguous.
What do the polls say?
Although voting intentions are liable to change over the coming weeks, it is expected the election will be tightly contested.
Lai leads in presidential polls, but projections suggest the DPP might lose legislative majority. Hou’s recent surge in support comes after failed coalition talks with TPP, impacting voter sentiments. TPP’s decline after similar negotiations with KMT signals evolving voter perceptions.
It remains unclear whether TPP and Ko’s loss of support in recent weeks would lead to electoral gains for the KMT or DPP. However, the KMT is also unlikely to win an absolute majority, which means that a minority government with the support of the TPP is the most likely outcome.
Chinese interference during the election campaign, which started on 15th December, is expected. Beijing has launched high-level, coordinated disinformation campaigns on social media and sponsored Taiwanese politicians on trips to China. Chinese officials have also urged Taiwanese business people residing in China to vote for pro-Chinese parties.
What does it mean for geopolitics?
The upcoming elections occur amidst heightened tensions in the Taiwan Strait, where frequent Chinese military activities signal an atmosphere of increased hostility. Historically, electoral outcomes in Taiwan have significantly shaped China's approach towards the island, especially marked by China's aggressive military stance post-President Tsai's 2016 election.
Historical Party Approaches and Impact on China-Taiwan Relations
The DPP, rejecting the 'One China' principle, now favours maintaining the status quo but remains viewed sceptically by China, fearing potential moves towards independence. Conversely, the KMT's historically more favourable outlook towards China has resulted in less aggressive responses from Beijing during their rule. Opposition candidates Hou and Ko advocate closer ties with China to mitigate tensions, echoing the rising concern among Taiwanese citizens about the risk of conflict with China.
Election Strategies and Nominations
The KMT's nominations, notably pro-China figures like Jaw Shaw-kong, signify their focus on fostering stronger relations with China, aligning with their traditional voter base. Meanwhile, the DPP's selection of Hsiao Bi-khim, known for advocating Taiwanese identity, emphasises their commitment to maintaining a separate political identity from China.
Concerns of Electoral Interference
The Taiwanese authorities and DPP officials have expressed concerns about potential Chinese interference. Previous attempts by China to influence elections with aggressive tactics in 1996 and 2000 have not yielded desired results. However, recent subdued military activities and alleged economic coercion tactics through investigations and economic offers underscore China's interest in influencing Taiwan's elections.
Economic Issues and Electoral Significance
President Tsai's handling of the economy, particularly amid challenges post-Covid, has drawn criticism and impacted her approval ratings. Economic issues such as inflation, stagnant wages, and discontent over economic diversification efforts have become focal points in the elections. Opposition parties advocate deeper economic ties with China as a potential solution, leveraging perceived economic shortcomings of the DPP's governance.
Navigating business in the election climate
Organisations operating in Taiwan should closely monitor election-related developments from credible sources, prepare for localised disruptions, and maintain political neutrality. Additionally, proactive engagement with local authorities and identification of potential flashpoints stays prudent.
Key Precautionary Measures for Businesses
- Stay informed through reliable local and international sources, like the Healix Sentinel Risk Management Platform.
- Avoid alignment with any political affiliations.
- Remain neutral in your social media profiles and refrain from posting and sharing content related to the election.
- Plan for potential disruptions and heightened security on election day.
- Identify and steer clear of protest-prone areas.
- Exercise caution around sensitive locations like campaign rallies.
While election-related violence is rare, businesses should exercise prudence and align their operational strategies with the evolving political landscape.