Taiwan Elects Tsai Ing-wen as Its First Female President

Tsai Ing-wen (photo by David Reid)

In a national election that will be seen as expressing the Taiwan people's dissatisfaction with its relationship with mainland China, Democratic Progessive Party (DPP) candidate Tsai Ing-wen has become the island's first female president, and the highest-ranking elected female official in the Chinese-speaking world. The DPP also looked set to win control of Taiwan's legislature.

Taiwan regards itself officially as the Republic of China on Taiwan, a political entity created after the Kuomintang (KMT) was defeated by the Communist Party of China (CCP) in 1949, which founded the People's Republic of China. The People's Republic regards China as a renegade province and has vowed to use force to reunify Taiwan with the rest of the country if the ROC declares independence.

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Regardless of its official status, Taiwan is currently self-governing, holding democratic elections and supporting religious freedom, including for Roman Catholics and other Christians. As many as two percent of Taiwan’s 21 million people identify themselves as Catholic. There is one archdiocese and six diocese on Taiwan.

New President Tsai, 59, holds a Ph.D from the London School of Economics and a Masters degree in law from Cornell University. She had previously run for president in 2012, but was defeated by incumbent Ma Ying-jeou. She has never married.

The DPP's general pro-Taiwan stance and platform that the People’s Republic and Taiwan should operate on a state-to-state basisi is not popular with the CCP in Beijing. The party's first successful presidential candidate, Chen Shui-bian, was elected in 2000 and served until 2008. The KMT's Ma followed Chen, and improved relations with the People's Republic to the point where direct flights between cities in Taiwan and the Chinese mainland were resumed for the first time since 1949, along with the large-scale opening of Taiwan to tourism from other parts of China.

Tsai officially takes up her new position on May 20.

Steven Schwankert, author of Poseidon: China’s Secret Salvage of Britain’s Lost Submarine (Hong Kong University Press), is America’s Beijing correspondent. Twitter: @greatwriteshark.

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