New president Lai Ching-te to face divided parliament

A kid runs across the flag of Taiwan banner during the announcement of official results on January 13, 2024 in Taipei, Taiwan.

Sawayasu Tsuji | Getty Images News | Getty Images

TAIPEI — Taiwan’s president-elect Lai Ching-te will face a split parliament that will likely moderate his policy agenda, with Taiwan People’s Party seen as the king maker with eight seats since neither of the two major parties won an outright majority in the 113-seat Legislative Yuan.

The presidential contest on Saturday was a three-way race among candidates from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, or DPP — which China describes as a “serious threat,” the main opposition party and pro-Beijing Kuomintang, and the smaller Taiwan People’s Party, or TPP.

The Kuomintang, or KMT, won 52 seats in the legislature — one more than the DPP — and the combative Han Kuo-yu could well be the party’s choice for Speaker on his return to Taiwan’s parliament.

If the KMT forms a coalition with TPP, Han’s rancor — after being recalled as Kaoshiung mayor and losing in the 2020 presidential election as KMT’s nominee — may be tempered by its prospective coalition partner.

While Lai won the presidential election on Saturday with 40% of the popular vote, his DPP lost 10 seats in Taiwan’s parliament from its previous 61, giving up its majority.

The TPP is in a great strategic position to make or break Lai’s legislative hopes.

Timothy S. Rich

Western Kentucky University

At a post-election press conference, Lai pledged to stay open-minded in his governance, while committing to forging consensus in a divided legislature.

“Because the KMT did not win a majority in the legislature, they will be dependent on the support of the TPP to build a majority coalition, and if the KMT is too intransigent and tries to oppose everything the Lai administration wants to do, they may have a hard time sustaining that coalition,” said Sara Newland, an assistant professor in government at Smith College and a scholar of local politics in China and Taiwan.

“The TPP’s policy positions aren’t very stable, so they could just as easily cooperate with the DPP as the KMT on many issues,” she added. “And given their critiques of the ineffectiveness of the major parties, I don’t think it’s in the TPP’s interest to be part of a coalition that makes the legislative process grind to a halt — this would just look really hypocritical.”

More restraint toward China

The outcome could see Lai embracing a more restrained China policy — particularly since KMT and TPP have advocated a more conciliatory posture — even as Beijing is likely to ramp up pressure on Taiwan’s government when Lai is officially inaugurated as president in May. The new parliament will take office next month.

“Lai refrained from provocative pro-independence rhetoric during the campaign, and our base case is that his administration will show continuity with Tsai, who exploited anti-mainland sentiment while avoiding obvious provocations,” Gabriel Wildau,…

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