Taiwan heads to the polls

Taiwanese people cast their ballots at a polling station in Taipei, Taiwan, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024. Taiwanese are casting their votes Saturday for a new president in an election that could chart the trajectory of its relations with China over the next four years. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)
Taiwanese people cast their ballots at a polling station in Taipei, Taiwan, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024. Taiwanese are casting their votes Saturday for a new president in an election that could chart the trajectory of its relations with China over the next four years. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwanese cast their votes Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024, for a new president and legislature in an election that could chart the trajectory of the self-ruled democracy’s relations with China over the next four years.

At stake is the peace and stability of the island 160 kilometers off the coast of China that Beijing claims as its own, to be retaken by force if necessary. Domestic issues such as the sluggish economy and expensive housing also featured prominently in the campaign.

Vice President Lai Ching-te, representing the governing Democratic Progressive Party, known as the DPP, seeks to succeed outgoing President Tsai Ing-wen and give the independence-leaning party an unprecedented third term.

Lai cast his vote in his hometown of Tainan. He remarked on the sunny weather, suggesting it’s a good time for Taiwanese people to go out and vote.

“I encourage everyone around the country to vote with enthusiasm and show the vitality of Taiwan’s democracy,” he said.

Favored by Beijing

Hou Yu-ih, the candidate of Beijing-favored Kuomintang, also known as the Nationalist Party, cast his ballot in New Taipei City, a municipality bordering the capital, Taipei. Hou is the mayor of New Taipei, a position from which he took leave to run for president.

“What we need during the election campaign process is chaos,” Hou told reporters after casting his vote. “But after the vote, we must be united and face the future of Taiwan together.”

Popular among youth

Alternative candidate Ko Wen-je of the Taiwan People’s Party, who has shown popularity among young voters seeking an alternative to the two major parties, voted in Taipei.

Asked by journalists how he felt, Ko, in his well-known dry manner, said he aimed to try his best every day “and plan for the next stage when we get there.”

Voting began at 8 a.m. Saturday and was to wrap up eight hours later.

Hou, a former head of Taiwan’s police force, said Lai’s view on relations with Beijing could push the two sides to war.

“I advocate pragmatic exchanges with China, the defense of national security, and protection of human rights. I insist that Taiwan’s future will be decided by the 23.5 million (people of Taiwan), and I will use my life to protect Taiwan,” Hou said.

The candidate with the most votes wins, with no runoff. The legislative races are for districts and at-large seats.

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