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Taiwan voters cheer for 'vitality of democracy' after Lai's win

AFP . Taipei
14 Jan 2024 14:03:44 | Update: 14 Jan 2024 19:21:00
Taiwan voters cheer for 'vitality of democracy' after Lai's win
Taiwan's President-elect Lai Ching-te (L) waves beside his running mate Hsiao Bi-khim during a rally outside the headquarters of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in Taipei on January 13, 2024 — AFP Photo

When Taiwan's president-elect Lai Ching-te stepped onstage and vowed to defend the self-ruled island from China's ever-constant threat, 24-year-old Jacky breathed a sigh of relief as thousands around him erupted in thunderous cheers.

Since the publication of polling data was banned by law 10 days before Saturday's election, "the two opponent camps seemed to pick up their momentum," he told AFP.

"But now I am very happy," Jacky said after voters swept Lai to victory, as a group of supporters waved banners that said "Congratulations on getting elected!"

They also carried posters featuring a dog and a cat, representing Lai and running mate Hsiao Bi-khim, who has dubbed herself a "cat warrior" skilled at balancing the geopolitical tightrope presented by China's claim on Taiwan. 

Beijing claims Taiwan as its own territory and has never renounced the use of force to seize it, with Chinese President Xi Jinping in recent months upping the rhetoric of "unification" being "inevitable".

Lai's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has portrayed itself as defenders of Taiwan's democracy, and touts the stance that the island is "already independent".

With Lai's win, the 64-year-old vice-president secured an unprecedented third consecutive term for the DPP, and he has vowed to follow the path paved by outgoing President Tsai Ing-wen. 

For Jacky, that was the most important: "Taiwan will carry on with Tsai's good policy." 

Felllow DPP supporter Grace -- sporting the party's signature green colours -- echoed the praise for Tsai, saying she put Taiwan on the map for raising the small island's international profile and being among the few countries in Asia that has legalised same-sex marriage.

"We are very, super, world-class happy," beamed the 21-year-old, who was leaving the DPP headquarters for late-night hotpot to celebrate with her friends. 

"I am confident in the new leaders in adhering to Tsai's road, and I hope they can safeguard Taiwan's democracy," she told AFP.

As supporters teared up with emotion, Tsai thanked them for demonstrating "the vitality of Taiwan's democracy" and called for unity among the island's 23 million people. 

"No matter who you voted for, no matter if the one you supported got elected or not, the democratic Taiwan has again made one step forward because of our decisions," she said. 

'Our right to vote'

In New Taipei City, supporters of opposition Kuomintang candidate Hou Yu-ih could see the writing on the wall as the ballot numbers rolled in. 

"What I'm most worried about is our stability," said Elsa Jiang, 70, with tears in her eyes, seated among a noticeably smaller crowd than the one at DPP headquarters.

Hou, a former police chief and popular mayor, bowed deeply to express regret for his defeat, but urged for all to unite. 

"I respect the final decisions by the Taiwanese people," he said. "When people have made their decision, we face them... and move forward according to their wishes."

As he walked offstage, a supporter shouted, "Don't let DPP's pursuit of Taiwan independence succeed!" 

Meanwhile, third-party candidate Ko Wen-je said his small but hardy Taiwan People's Party (TPP) had cemented its role as a "key opposition force", as his supporters burst into tears. 

"I can see how much love and passion Taiwan's people have for Taiwan, and I reaffirm that you are the hope of Taiwan," he said, thanking his supporters. 

Both opposition parties may have lost in the presidential election, but voters also kicked out the ruling DPP's parliamentary majority. 

"I am very happy (about Lai winning) but I am not totally settled because we lost the majority in parliament," said 52-year-old teacher Lu, who flew in from California last night to cast her ballot. 

But she took heart from being surrounded by a jubilant crowd of green-clad partiers. 

"The best souvenir from this election is our right to vote again in the next election," she told AFP.