On Saturday 16th January, more than 20,000 ardent supporters crammed outside the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) headquarters in central Taipei to hear Tsai Ing-wen’s first speech as Taiwan’s President-Elect.

Even with observers and commentators predicting a DPP victory in what was perhaps Taiwan’s most important presidential election to date, few could have imagined the margin of victory to be as emphatic as it turned out. In expectation of the eventual result, an estimated 20,000 ‘Team Ing’ (英派) supporters crammed into the square outside the DPP’s headquarters at Shandao Temple to celebrate the election of the island nation’s first female president.

Needing a simple majority to decide the presidential ballot, and 57 seats or more in the legislature to have an absolute majority, Tsai, and the revitalised Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) strode to victory, winning votes and constituencies in large swathes of the island which only a few years earlier had firmly turned their back on the Pan-Green Camp. Tsai was elected president comfortably polling 56.12% of the vote (almost 6.9 million votes), while the KMT presidential candidate Eric Chu garnered just 31% (3.8 million votes). The DPP’s gains in the legislature also represent the first time the DPP has controlled both the presidency and the legislature simultaneously, giving Tsai a strong mandate in which to govern.

The mood at the DPP headquarters was one of relief and celebration, perhaps in part due to the realisation that the tenure of Taiwan’s most unpopular president in the nation’s history had finally run its course. Banners with the election slogan ‘Light up Taiwan’, and ‘Team Ing’ were raised high above the crowd by supporters both young and old, drunk on the exhilaration and excitement such gatherings bring in a country where politics is a national pastime. Then, after a televised question and answer session with the local and global media, Tsai appeared on stage, greeted by rapturous applause and much fanfare.

At times Tsai appeared overcome by her party’s achievements in the day’s polls, thanking everyone endlessly for showing faith in her candidacy. Weeks of solid campaigning had also seemingly taken a toll on her throat, with Tsai occasionally struggling to voice her message to the thousands of supporters below clinging on to her every word. After composing herself and the crowd, she spoke openly and honestly, with conviction and determination. It was the moment Dr. Tsai Ing-wen became President-elect Tsai Ing-wen, the 14th President of the Republic of China.

During her speech, Tsai thanked the United States and Japan, this perhaps being a reflection of the DPP’s international ambitions. She also talked at length about the need to preserve Taiwan’s hard fought democracy, and the need for greater involvement in international organisations. But it was when she touched upon the recent case of 16 year-old Taiwanese pop singer Chou Tzu-yu, who was forced to apologise by her Korean record label for merely waving a Taiwanese flag, which drew extra zeal from the crowd. Tsai asserted that Taiwanese at home, and abroad should never be made to feel ashamed to say they are from Taiwan.

The election was also a win for democracy on the island nation with groups of volunteers and officials flawlessly carrying out the election process in a manner that wouldn’t look out of place amongst the world’s oldest practising democracies, never mind a country which only a few decades ago was strictly governed under martial-law. In a move highlighting how Taiwan’s thriving and modern democracy is shifting further away from authoritarian China, Taiwanese voters elected a record 43 female candidates out of a possible 113 seats, and chose to over-represent the island’s 1.5% aboriginal population with 7% of the seats in the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan’s legislative house. Whereas China suppresses the rights of its ethnic minority population by using classic colonialist divide and rule tactics, Taiwan chooses to embrace them, and include them in the political process. Whereas China chooses to lock up gay-rights activists, Taiwan under Tsai could quite conceivably become the first country in Asia to legalise gay marriage.

When Tsai ended her address, the audience launched into chants of ‘總統好’ (‘hello, President’), and ‘台灣, 加油!’ (come on, Taiwan!’), obviously eager for the party atmosphere to continue long into the night. When the crowd began to finally disperse, youngsters walked around the square firing random bursts from an air horn (no political rally is complete without an air horn), and fireworks were set off in the park area directly opposite the party headquarters building. Eager not to miss out, supporters jostled with each other at the official merchandise booths to get their hands on ‘Team Ing’ keyrings and other commemorative souvenirs such as t-shirts, mugs, and coasters. Foreign TV crews were surrounded by jubilant, smiling supporters eager to showcase Taiwan’s democracy to the world.

As Tsai put it in her address, the next four months before her inauguration on May 20 will see her work with the current government to complete a smooth transition of power. For her millions of supporters, the day cannot come soon enough.

(Feature photo from Tsai’s victory rally, by David Prentice)

 

David Prentice

David Prentice is a Master’s student on the IMAS program at National Chengchi University in Taipei. His research interests include Taiwanese culture and Taiwan’s indigenous peoples.

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