Taiwan election 2024: why the DPP is facing an uphill battle

Tsai’s government has not been as successful with non-Western nations. Taiwan has only 13 diplomatic partners left, having lost nine to Beijing since Tsai came to power.


Taiwan’s presidential front runner Lai Ching-te picks de facto envoy to US as running mate

Taiwan’s presidential front runner Lai Ching-te picks de facto envoy to US as running mate

The New Southbound Policy, Tsai’s flagship initiative to promote economic diversification towards 16 Asian countries, as well as Australia and New Zealand, has not been a major success. Taiwan’s top trading partner remains mainland China, by a large margin.

A much-touted government initiative to improve English proficiency at the population level was quietly downgraded last year, amid criticism that it was unrealistic.

In the domestic arena, the government has not had much success either. Home prices in Taipei, and across Taiwan, are among the highest in the world, especially when considering gross domestic product per capita and wages. Salaries in Taiwan have not kept pace with housing costs and are generally low, while the minimum monthly wage remains below NT$30,000 (US$950 or HK$7,400).

The ruling party has also gained a reputation for poor internal management following last year’s local elections. There was a vote-rigging scandal; a high-profile candidate had to withdraw from a mayoral race after a thesis plagiarism scandal; and there was talk of unsavory links to the criminal underworld after 88 shots were fired at the office of a DPP politician and a tech company reportedly linked to another DPP member.

As if all this were not enough, the party was embroiled in a #MeToo scandal earlier this year, when a young former staffer, Chen Chien-jou, said it had covered up her sexual harassment complaint. This follows claims that senior DPP figures also hushed up the case of a popular female legislator who said in 2021 that she had been battered by her boyfriend.
Former DPP staffer Chen Chien-jou poses for photographs during an interview in New Taipei City on July 2. The #MeToo movement spread from politics to academia and entertainment in Taiwan after her account of harassment went viral. Photo: AFP
As such, it should not be surprising that support for the party has eroded among younger voters, with many turning to Ko Wen-je, head of the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP). Ko leads the field, including Lai, among under-40 voters in some polls. At a rally in the summer calling for judicial reform and affordable housing, Ko got an enthusiastic reception from a large crowd, many of whom were young men.
Furthermore, a recent egg scandal has hardly helped the party. Amid outrage over blunders like the mislabelling of imported eggs and food safety fears, the agriculture minister had to resign and Tsai’s popularity took a big hit.

The scandal involved several issues: a large number of imported eggs had to be discarded due to damage, a little-known distributor was accused of receiving a suspiciously large amount of government subsidies, and eggs imported from Brazil were found to have been distributed with incorrect expiry date labels. The eggs were only imported in the first place to plug a recurring shortage.

Taiwan’s #MeToo scandals are the tip of an iceberg of human rights problems

Meanwhile, in other areas such as renewable energy, traffic safety and fertility, Taiwan has faltered in the Tsai years.

Yet, despite the scandals and problems, the DPP has managed to hold on to its core supporters, and continues to enjoy support from Washington.

The party must be aware that its track record is nothing to boast about, hence its penchant for highlighting the threat from Beijing and for warning the public against mainland disinformation and propaganda.

However, such allegations, made without solid evidence and examples, come across as paranoia, or desperate attempts to silence valid criticism.

Lai could still win the presidential election in January as the opposition is split between the Kuomintang’s Hou Yu-ih and the TPP’s Ko. However, it will be no cakewalk, and Lai will need to face public dissatisfaction with his party.

Hilton Yip is a journalist and editor based in Taiwan


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