After weeks of campaigning, Taiwan’s leader Tsai Ing-wen and her main contender Han Kuo-yu have made last-minute attempts to mobilise supporters across the island on the eve of Saturday’s presidential and legislative elections.
“The young people of Hong Kong have demonstrated with their lives, blood, and tears that the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ framework does not work,” said incumbent President Tsai, of the liberal Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), at a rally in Taipei on Friday.”Tomorrow will be our turn to show the people of Hong Kong that the values of freedom and democracy will conquer all difficulties.”
Throughout the evening, DPP leaders and government officials repeatedly raised issues such as challenges to the island nation’s sovereignty from China and Hong Kong’s months-long pro-democracy protests against Beijing’s encroachment and erosion of rights. Meanwhile, crowds waved green DPP flags and banners promoting gender equality and the protection of civil liberties.
“Rejecting the ‘One Country, Two Systems’, I have done it for the 23 million people [in Taiwan],” said Tsai, 64, who is trying to secure a second term in office.
Around 510,000 people took part in the rally in front of the Presidential Office Building in the capital city, according to the DPP organisers, using an application that calculates participants based on who has scanned a QR code.
Tsai’s main challenger, populist Han Kuo-yu, of the conservative Kuomintang party, held a rally in the same location the evening before, where supporters chanted “Depose Tsai Ing-wen” and “Han Kuo-yu, win the election.”
During the event on Thursday, blue and red national flags flew above Ketagalan Boulevard and its adjacent streets around the towering East Gates. Organisers claimed that one million people had joined the rally.
Han on Friday returned to Kaohsiung, where he was elected into the mayor’s office in November 2018 – making him the first non-DPP politician to occupy the position since 1998. Over 500,000 people had turned up in support of the mayor when he arrived, according to the organiser.
In his speech, Han criticised the Tsai administration for the island’s diplomatic setbacks. “[Taiwan] has lost seven allies under the DPP’s rule in the past three and a half year, and has not participated in any international organisation,” he said. “Cross-strait relations have gone ice-cold.”
Taiwan has been ruled by the Republic of China government since 1945, when Japan ceded control over the territory. Beijing considers the island to be part of its territory and refuses to maintain diplomatic relations with countries that recognise it.
Han has favoured closer ties with China, particularly in matters related to trade and economy. But his party has come under added public scrutiny after its Deputy Secretary, Alex Tsai, was accused of attempting to coerce alleged Chinese whistleblower Wang Li-quang into claiming that the DPP had bribed him into lying about pro-Chinese involvement in Taiwan’s elections.
More than 19 million electors aged over 20 are expected to cast their ballots on Saturday from 8am to 4pm. Among them, 1.1 million are first-time voters, according to the Central Election Commission. Taiwan does not permit absentee voters and, instead, the DPP began an online campaign to urge voters to return to the island to cast their ballots on Saturday.
Three other rallies for Tsai and the DPP legislative candidates were held simultaneously on Friday evening, including in Kaohsiung, Taichung, the second-largest city in central Taiwan, and New Taipei, which neighbours the capital.
Chen Long-hsin, a 62-year-old driver who joined Tsai’s rally in Taipei with his colleagues told HKFP he favoured Tsai’s policies. “I am not a DPP member, but I back ‘Siao-Ing’ because of her welfare policies, such as long-term care, tax taxation, and subsidies aimed at drivers,” he said, referencing a nickname given to her by supporters.
“[She] will not sell out Taiwan to the Chinese Communist Party,” added Chen. A father of two children, Chen expressed anger and concern over Hong Kong’s ongoing political crisis. “Those young people were just asking for freedom.”
Terri Chen, 31, a product manager in the software industry, told HKFP she had travelled home from the United States, where she has worked for several years, in order to vote.
Asked why she favoured Tsai over the other candidates, Chen said it was due to her approach to cross-strait relations. “Because she is not pro-China,” she said. “We are just different countries.”