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A glimpse into the 2024 Taiwanese presidential election

The upcoming presidential election that will take place this Saturday, 13 January, in Taiwan has captured the international community's attention due to its gravity and possible repercussions on the stability of the Indo-Pacific region. Naturally, what ignites the discussions among the international actors mainly lies in the Sino-Taiwan tensions and "how to deal with China?."  


Presidential candidate debate 


On 30 December 2023, a presidential candidate debate was held by the collective media for the purpose of understanding each candidate's personality, ideology and policy preferences. The debate was hosted by the chairman of the Taiwan Broadcasting System — Mr Yuan-Hui Hu, who highlighted the event as high profile and a traditional Taiwanese custom that showcases the island as an autonomous democratic de facto country. 


The presidential election candidates are listed as follows: Mr. Ko, Wen-je from the Taiwan People's Party (TPP), Mr. William (Ching-te) Lai from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and Mr. Hou, Yu-Ih from Kuomintang (the Nationalist Party abbreviated as KMT). Mr. Terry Gou, the founder, former chairman, and chief executive officer of Hon Hai Technology Group (also known as Foxconn), was originally one of the presidential candidates until he announced his withdrawal on 24 November 2023. 


Below is a short summarisation of each candidate's policy orientation, elaborated at the beginning of the debate, in order to give readers a better understanding of the current political landscape of the election. 


Mr. Ko, Wen-Je (TPP)


As a former surgeon and mayor of Taipei City, Ko and his party emerged as the third party that will compete with the two major parties, DPP and KMT, that have dominated the political landscape of Taiwan since the first direct election in 1996. Ko emphasised his priority in terms of ruling and policy-making, which involves pragmatism and the Taiwanese youth instead of ideology, implying the other two competing parties. He pointed out that under the governing of DPP in the last eight years, Taiwan still experienced a lack of resources along with the accumulating housing and low-income crises. In addition, he demonstrated concern regarding the low fertility rate, ageing population, slow industrial transformation, and stagnant economy under the policies of DPP. 


With regards to his cross-strait policy, he urges an autonomous Taiwan with peaceful cross-strait relations' (台灣自主、兩岸和平) under five principles (五個互相): to mutually acknowledge, understand, respect, cooperate, and sympathise with one another. According to Ko, he hopes that Taiwan could be the reason that prompts communication between China and the US instead of fighting against each other. 


Mr. William (Ching-Te) Lai (DPP) 


Like Ko, the current vice president of Taiwan also came from a medical background before his career as a politician. During the debate, he gave out a constructive policy agenda characterised by three main pillars: An innovative Taiwan, a sustainable Taiwan, and a peaceful and democratic Taiwan. He specifically mentioned the extra funding for study abroad as well as resolving the housing crisis. 


In terms of responding to his adversary Mr Hou Yu-ih, Lai accused the KMT of outdated political ideology that still hovers around the 1992 consensus while struggling to get rid of the influences of 'black gold politics', which is a term that refers to corruption from within. He then highlighted a potential stagnation of military expenses under KMT. 


Lai followed the current Taiwanese President Tsai's footsteps concerning cross-strait relations and policy. For instance, the four principles to follow (四個堅持), including the persistence on democratic constitutionalism, persist on the fact that neither side of the Taiwan Strait is subordinate to the other, strive that Taiwanese sovereignty can neither be infringed nor annexed and that the future of Taiwan lies in the will of Taiwanese people. Moreover, Lai has been promoting his "four-pillar plan for peace" (四大支柱), which calls for the strengthening of the defence apparatus, the strengthening of the economy with less economic dependence on China, the strengthening of ties among democratic countries as well as developing long-term alliance, and lastly to established ​​stable and Principled Cross-Strait Leadership. 


Mr. Hou, Yu-Ih (KMT)


Unlike the former two, Hou served as the director-general of the National Police Agency prior to his position as the mayor of NewTaipei City. Hou showed extreme concerns about the current governing party, DPP, due to their dubious policies during the Covid-19 crisis. He listed '10 misgovernance' (十大「失政) of the DPP that shared some similarities to what Ko has mentioned during his debate. Hou believes a particular crisis unit must be established if we were elected regardless of political party and ideology. In addition, he questioned the reason behind the continuous termination of diplomatic relations with nine countries under the DPP while stressing the lack of correspondence between Taiwan and China since the DPP came into power. 

Regarding cross-strait relations, Hou stresses neutrality and compliance with the Taiwanese constitution. He further explained his policy agenda by providing "Two objectives, three supervisory channels, and four strategic vertical axes". (兩個目標、三個監督管道、四個戰略縱深主軸) Hou's two objectives involve defending the national security and human rights of Taiwanese people, especially those who travel, reside, or do business with China. He intends to achieve these two objectives by supervising a parliamentary, judicial oversight and youth supervision mechanism. To ensure the country's resilience, he highlighted the four strategic axes of policy-making, which will be tackled from the perspective of national defence, communication, law implementation, and enhancing the economy.


Edited By: Josh Reidelbach

Photo: BBC news 

Further reading: 


  1. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/china-taiwan-relations-tension-us-policy-biden

  1. https://www.twreporter.org/a/2024-election-presidential-candidates-televised-debate#:~:text=%E9%80%99%E5%A0%B4%E9%9B%BB%E8%A6%96%E8%BE%AF%E8%AB%96%E6%9C%83,%E4%BE%9D%E7%85%A73%E4%BA%BA%E7%99%BC%E8%A8%80%E9%A0%86%E5%BA%8F%EF%BC%89%E3%80%82

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