Taiwan on verge of electing Tsai Ing-wen as first female president

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      Tomorrow's Taiwanese presidential election could bring long-lasting changes to the island nation's political landscape.

      Leading in the polls is Tsai Ing-wen, a Cornell- and London School of Economics-educated political science professor. She's the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate for the second time in four years.

      Charlie Wu, a Vancouver-based political analyst born in Taiwan, has met Tsai on a few occasions. 

      Over lunch in a Cactus Club restaurant on Vancouver's West Side, Wu told the Georgia Straight that she's an "unconventional candidate".

      "She said the future of Taiwan needs to be determined by the 23 million people living there and not by any particular party," Wu said.

      Wu said that Tsai negotiated Taiwan's entry into the World Trade Organization under a Kuomintang (KMT) government. Later, she oversaw cross-strait relations with China under a DPP government.

      "She has the international and cross-strait background," Wu said. "She's a very low-key person. She lost last time in the election by 800,000 votes. It was a close election last time."

      If Tsai wins the election, Wu noted that this will mark the first time that the DPP will control the executive and the Legislative Yuan (Taiwan's equivalent of Parliament).

      Wu acknowledged that there have been elected female leaders in many East and South Asian countries, including India, Bangladesh, Philippines, Burma, and South Korea.

      However, he said that Tsai would be the first whose father or husband hadn't already served in a major role in national politics.

      DPP and KMT have been bitter rivals

      Taiwanese politics has traditionally been highly polarized. The DPP has often adopted a harder line against China than the KMT, which has held the presidency for the last eight years under Ma Ying-jeou.

      Under Taiwan's constitution, Ma cannot seek re-election for a third term.

      The last DPP president, Chen Shui-bian, frequently irritated China with his outspoken declarations of Taiwan's independence. He even called for a referendum asking Taiwanese voters in 2008 if the country should seek United Nations membership under the name of Taiwan. The referendum never went ahead.

      Taiwan, also known as the Republic of China, was expelled from the UN when the People's Republic of China was admitted in 1971.

      Wu said that Tsai is "not as aggressive" as Chen in her criticism of China. She has called for a meeting with Communist officials in China to discuss how future dialogue should take place between the two countries.

      Since KMT forces under Chiang Kai-shek lost the Chinese Civil War and fled to Taiwan in 1949, Communist China has always maintained that Taiwan is a province. Taiwanese people adamantly reject this notion.

      Wu said that one thing that KMT and DPP politicians agree on is the need for Taiwan to join the Trans Pacific Partnership.

      South China Sea controversy rages

      One of the hottest regional issues is the competition among several East Asian countries for control over a group of sparsely populated islands in the South China Sea.

      Wu said that Tsai, as DPP leader, had high-profile meetings in the U.S. last year, even visiting the White House. There is also a great deal of speculation that she had a private audience with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo.

      According to Wu, it's a sign that Tsai may be forming a coalition of sorts with Japan and the United States, though "not in a provocative way against China".

      "It's something that China is observing to see what Taiwan is doing with the U.S.," he added.

      Charlie Wu expects Tsai Ing-wen to win the presidential election.
      Charlie Smith

      In the meantime, DPP officials are planning to level the playing field with the KMT should they win the election.

      Wu said that the KMT is the wealthiest political party in the world. That's as a result of seizing Japanese assets in Taiwan after the Second World War.

      He predicted that the DPP and other opposition parties will pass legislation to force the KMT to forfeit everything that was taken over illegally.

      "That's going to be a big game changer for the other parties," Wu said.

      One of the biggest factors helping the DPP has been the involvement of younger voters, Wu noted. In this regard, he said the situation isn't that different from the United States and Canada, where younger voters played a decisive role in the election of U.S. president Barack Obama and Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau.

      Wu said that younger voters tend to prefer the DPP whereas older voters have sometimes skewed more toward the KMT. Younger voters turned out in large numbers in the last Taipei mayoral election, resulting in the election of an independent candidate over the KMT standard bearer.

      In the meantime, the Taiwanese economy is not doing particularly well and that, according to Wu, has turned more voters away from the KMT.

      "All these pro-China policies didn't really make Taiwan's economy better," he said.