Special Issue: Taiwanese Voices On The 2024 Elections

Publication: China Brief Volume: 24 Issue: 4

President-elect Lai Ching-te (L2) and Vice President-elect Hsiao Bi-khim (L3) of the Democratic Progressive Party wave to supporters after winning the election in Taipei. (Source: Alex Chan Tsz Yuk/Sipa USA)

This year sees the Jamestown Foundation celebrate its 40th anniversary. The intention of Jamestown’s analysis since its inception has always been to foreground indigenous voices and local sources from the regions of focus. The organization’s founder, William Geimer, published memoirs of Arkady Shevchenko, the highest-ranking Soviet official ever to defect when he left his position as undersecretary general of the United Nations, and of Ion Pacepa, Romania’s former top intelligence officer. Ever since, Jamestown has sought to disseminate information on countries of strategic concern to the United States and its allies and partners. For the last 24 years, China Brief has pursued this approach to its coverage of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Taiwan.

It is in this context that Jamestown is publishing a special issue of China Brief on the 2024 Taiwan elections. [1] Arriving almost exactly a month following the island’s presidential and legislative elections held on January 13, this issue includes shorter pieces by five sitting lawmakers and two Taiwan-based experts. [2] These cover a variety of topics, ranging from introspective analyses about the Kuomintang (KMT) and its perspective on the years ahead, to overviews of civil society initiatives to enhance the population’s defense capabilities and awareness, to insight on how Taiwanese politicians view their own relations with the PRC. These articles are published here as full translations or with minor edits. In this way, Jamestown has sought to preserve the voices and the views of the authors to the fullest extent. The articles run as follows:

External treatments of Taiwan’s politics are often reductive. This is something that rising interest in the island in recent years has clarified, leading to coverage that frames Taiwan in functional terms, as the site for geopolitical contestation (see for instance: BBC, January 13; Economist, May 1, 2021). True,  the PRC is a perennial concern in Taiwanese politics, and remained a salient issue during the election campaign (The Diplomat, February 1). Nevertheless, domestic concerns were clearly also at the fore: stagnating wages, unaffordable house prices, and brain drain among the younger population were all hot-button issues, not to mention various political scandals and characteristic mudslinging. As such, the election, as the critical point in the country’s  political calendar in which attention is squarely focused internally, and as the moment during which the whole island most publicly participates in expressing its full range of political views, beliefs, and commitments, provides a golden opportunity to explore the nuances and idiosyncrasies of this polity, which it has as much as any other state. 

When each voter arrived in person at the ballot box on January 13, they were presented with three different ballots. The first ballot was for the presidential election, which is decided by a simple majority vote. The second and third ballots were for the legislative elections: one to select a local district/constituency candidate, and the other to vote for a particular party. This mixed or ‘parallel’ voting system ensures that 73 members of the 113-seat Legislative Yuan are chosen via first-past-the-post voting, while 34 members are chosen via proportional representation, with candidates elected from party lists depending on their party’s proportional share of the overall vote. A further six seats are voted for exclusively by Taiwan’s indigenous population.

The 2024 presidential election was won by Lai Ching-te (賴清德), with just over 40 percent of the vote. [2]  Lai will be sworn into office on May 20. Commentators have argued that his victory—which returned a DPP candidate as Head of State for an historic third consecutive term—can be seen as “a vote for stability, at least by the large minority of Taiwanese” (Jacobin, February 5). In the Legislative Yuan elections, the DPP also won more votes than any other party. However, this translated to much fewer seats, losing their commanding majority. Including allied minor parties and independents (who tend to vote with one of the main two parties), the DPP now holds 51 seats to the KMT’s 54. Both are several seats shy of 57, the requisite number for a majority (Frozen Garlic, January 28). 

The rise of the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) as a third candidate made the election process much more uncertain than in previous years. Having outperformed expectations by winning eight seats, Ko Wen-je (柯文哲)’s campaign has left the two traditional parties with questions to answer going forward. Ko received over half of the votes of 20–29 year old voters. Educated voters (including graduate students at National Taiwan University) may not have been fans of Ko per se, they felt alienated and disappointed by the incumbent DPP and the KMT (CWP, February 12). The TPP’s savvy use of social media and online platforms—TikTok and Youtube in particular—generated youth support in ways that other parties failed to capitalize on. However, as the party institutionalizes and struggles as the third-largest party, it is difficult to see how much better, if at all, Ko’s party will fare come 2028.

A division of powers between the DPP executive (with key appointments, such as the premier, made by Lai) and the KMT-led Legislative Yuan (with Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜 as speaker) dictating the legislative process) will make gridlock more likely. The national budget will still be spearheaded by the executive, though the legislature will be able to cut spending for specific items and new programs will be difficult to get off the ground. Moreover, the legislature can pursue its own agenda, which rarely receives significant pushback from the executive. One crucial area where this might play out is in the approval of military aid (Frozen Garlic, January 28). 

For those who must view the island at the level of analysis of a geopolitical unit, an understanding of Taiwan’s internal workings is still vital. Contingencies within the island’s political culture and democratic processes inform its status in broader regional and global settings, as well as affecting analyses in Beijing on whether or how to take any of a number of potential actions. For instance, Han Kuo-yu is known for maintaining friendly ties with the PRC, and met with officials during a 2019 trip. Scholar of Taiwanese politics Lev Nachman has argued that Beijing is “probably very happy” that Han now has this platform, while Taiwanese expert Chen Fan-yu has argued that Beijing may therefore try to exert influence via the legislature, and might even invite Han to the PRC (VOA, February 1). Beijing has shown little restraint or subtlety so far, however. Over 80 balloons have been seen over the island in the last two months, and PLA aircraft continue to cross the median line on an almost daily basis (Newsweek, February 12; MND, accessed February 15). 

The following compilation of articles that constitute this issue of China Brief provide necessary context and detail about Taiwan’s contemporary situation. Engaging with their writing can, perhaps better than any other means, help those of us outside Taiwan to better understand what is happening right now, where the priorities of various parts of its political system currently lie, and what its prospects are for the years ahead. 


[1] Special thanks are owed to my colleague, Sunny Cheung, for his work commissioning many of these articles and his assistance in putting this issue of China Brief together. I am also grateful to Howard Cheng-Hao Shen for coordinating the two submissions by KMT members.

[2] The Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) did not respond to enquiries for contributions to this issue.

[3] For more on Lai’s platform and background, see China Brief, March 3, 2023.