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Taiwan elections

Tsai Ing-wen sweeps to victory in Taiwan presidential election

Victory bolstered by young voters backing her strong stance against China

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen celebrates her victory with supporters in Taipei Saturday night. (Photo by Akira Kodaka)

TAIPEI -- Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen of the Beijing-skeptic Democratic Progressive Party secured a second term as the island's leader, crushing her China-friendly Kuomintang rival Han Kuo-yu in Saturday's presidential election.

Tsai claimed 57% of the vote, according to Taiwan's Central Election Commission. Han came in second with 39%, while People's First Party chairman James Soong took 4%. Turnout was about 74%, up from 66% four years ago.

The 63-year-old got the highest number of votes for any candidate since Taiwan's first direct presidential election in 1996. Her DPP also kept its majority in an election for the national legislature, also held Saturday.

Tsai spent much of a news conference after her victory talking about cross-strait ties.

"The result of this election clearly added significance because [the people] have shown that when our sovereignty and democracy are threatened, the Taiwanese people will shout our determination even more loudly back," Tsai said.

Kuomintang party's presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu admits defeat in Kaohsiung on Jan. 11.   © Reuters

"Today, I want to once again, call upon the Beijing authorities to remind them that peace, parity, democracy and dialogue are the key to positive interactions and long term sustainable development," she said. "China must abandon its threats of the use of force against Taiwan."

Tsai's victory largely came from young voters placing their hopes in her government continuing to stand up to Beijing, which seeks unification with Taiwan, an extremely unpopular idea on the island. Tsai also benefitted from Taiwan's strong economic performance amid the U.S.-China trade war.

"Tsai gained more than 1 million votes than she got in 2016. It suggests that the China factor really affected voting behavior among young voters who have strong sympathy for the Hong Kong unrest and China's rising pressure against Taiwan," Pan Chao-min, a professor at Tunghai University's Graduate Institute of Political Science in Taiwan, told the Nikkei Asian Review.

The result caps a remarkable turnaround for Tsai, whose ruling DPP was routed by the Kuomintang in local elections in November 2018.

Her rebound was boosted by Chinese President Xi Jinping's provocative remarks last January, in which he pushed Beijing's "one country, two systems" framework and maintained that he would not renounce the use of force in bringing Taiwan back into the fold. She also capitalized on the months of unrest in Hong Kong, saying authorities' response there shows the kind of threat Taiwan's hard-fought democracy faces.

Ties between Taipei and Beijing have deteriorated significantly since Tsai took office in May 2016.

Supporters of Tsai's Democratic Progressive Party gather in front of party headquarters in Taipei on Saturday. (Photo by Akira Kodaka)

China has consistently sought to isolate the self-ruled island, luring seven of Taiwan's formal diplomatic allies to Beijing since Tsai took power and suspending independent tourist visas to the island it views as a breakaway province.

Even so, Beijing is using its massive economic power to lure the island's tech talent and businesses to the mainland.

The Tsai administration is likely to try to maintain the status-quo with China over the next four years.

"We do not rule out the possibilities of discussion or dialogue or meetings between Taiwan and China," Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told foreign journalists ahead of the election. "But this kind of meeting or dialogue needs to be conducted without preconditions."

Chiang Ling-chen, a 21 year-old student at National Taiwan University, was one of the young voters that propelled Tsai to victory.

She told Nikkei that even though she was raised in a family that supports Kuomintang, she believes the DPP holds similar values to her such as freedom of speech, personal liberty, human rights and democracy.

Han presented issues in as "sensational way to divide society," she said, adding that Tsai's "tender speeches" in promoting democracy and Taiwanese values won the hearts and mind of young people.

Additional reporting by Kenji Kawase

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