Taiwan’s crucial elections are underway, and China is keeping a close eye on them

As Taiwan’s crucial elections unfold, all eyes, especially those from China, are closely monitoring the political landscape. The results of these elections are poised to have significant implications in the delicate cross-strait relations.

Taiwan’s presidential and parliamentary elections, which Beijing has framed as a conflict between war and peace and is holding as it increases pressure on the island to recognize its sovereignty, began polling on Saturday.

After decades of struggle against martial law and authoritarian rule, Taiwan held its first direct presidential election in 1996 and has since become a model of democratic success.

Tensions in the political landscape are high, both domestically and internationally, as Taiwan’s pivotal elections take place. With Vice President Lai Ching-te as its nominee, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which is renowned for supporting Taiwan’s unique identity and opposing China’s territorial claims, is running for a third term in office.

Before casting a ballot, Lai Ching-te stressed to reporters in Tainan, a city in southern Taiwan, the importance of every vote in the nation’s arduously earned democracy. Lai is dedicated to preserving peace across the Taiwan Strait and fortifying the island’s defenses, despite China’s accusations that he is a dangerous separatist.

China had been denouncing Lai, rejecting calls for talks, and characterizing him as a threat to regional stability in the run-up to the election. Chinese balloons were spotted crossing the narrow Taiwan Strait, according to Taiwan’s defence ministry, which denounced them as a threat to aviation safety and an act of psychological warfare.

Amidst this geopolitical strain, Taipei-based businesswoman Jennifer Lu, 36, articulated a sentiment that many Taiwanese share: “Nobody wants war.” In light of escalating tensions, this sentiment represents the desire for stability and peace among the general public.

Lai is seeking reelection, but she faces two strong opponents in the presidential race. The largest opposition party in Taiwan, the Kuomintang (KMT), is led by Hou Yu-ih, who wants to resume direct communication with Lai after accusing him of backing formal Taiwanese independence. Conversely, Lai presents Hou as pro-Beijing, an assertion that Hou strongly disputes.

A different candidate, the 2019-founded Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) led by former mayor of Taipei Ko Wen-je, has garnered fervent support, especially from younger voters. Ko focuses on everyday problems, addressing things like the exorbitant cost of housing. Ko says that although he supports re-engagement with China, Taiwan’s democracy and way of life shouldn’t be jeopardized.

Ko conveyed composure in a statement following the vote, which reflected the general attitude among candidates and electors in the face of the election’s uncertainty. The parliamentary elections hold equal significance, as the failure of any one party to secure a majority could impede the legislative agenda of the incoming president, particularly about defence matters.

A 44-year-old employee of the financial sector named Liao Jeng-wen highlighted how unpredictable this election is in contrast to previous ones. Like Liao, a lot of Taiwanese think that the next leader should look into maintaining the status quo while exploring peaceful coexistence with China.

Polls opened for eight hours and closed at 4 p.m. (0800 GMT), with hand-counted ballots. The fact that there is no early, proxy, electronic, or absentee voting highlights how careful the electoral process is. By late Saturday evening, the results of the election should be known, with the victor making a victory speech and the losers accepting defeat.

The election is clouded by President Tsai Ing-wen, who is prohibited by the constitution from running for a third term after holding office for two terms in a row. The DPP’s policies and her legacy have shaped the political dialogue in a big way, which raises the stakes in this election.

It is impossible to overstate the significance of Taiwan’s elections for the region. The larger power struggle in the Asia-Pacific area is reflected in China’s intense interest and accusations of separatism. Due to the potential impact Taiwan’s political trajectory may have on the stability and power dynamics of the region, the United States and other international actors are closely monitoring the outcome.

Voters’ decisions will not only determine the future of Taiwan but also the delicate balance in the larger Asia-Pacific region as the island nation navigates these elections against a backdrop of geopolitical tensions. With ramifications for international geopolitics, the outcomes will be closely watched for their ability to either intensify or lessen tensions between Taiwan and China.