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TAIPEI: Taiwanese voters have chosen Lai Ching-te from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party to be their next president, marking the continuation of a government that promoted a sovereign Taiwan and a national identity separate to China.

More than 19 million people out of Taiwan’s population of over 23 million were eligible to vote in Saturday’s polls, which saw a turnout of over 71 percent. 

Lai secured over 40 percent of the vote in the tight three-way race, according to Taiwan’s Central Election Commission. He outpaced his closest rival, Hou Yu-ih from the China-friendly Kuomintang, or KMT, by almost 7 percentage points, while Taiwan People’s Party Chairman Ko Wen-je took over 26 percent of the vote. 

“Today, Taiwan has once again shown the world our people’s commitment to democracy,” Lai wrote on X after his win. 

“Looking forward, we remain committed to upholding peace in the Taiwan Strait and being a force of good in the international community.”

Lai, who is Taiwan’s current vice president, is expected to continue the policies of incumbent president Tsai Ing-wen, including maintaining the status quo with China for the next four years, after he takes office in May. 

His victory marks the first time in Taiwan’s history that a single political party has secured three consecutive terms in office since the first open presidential election in 1996.

Beijing has labeled Lai a “troublemaker” and a “separatist,” and has suggested to Taiwan’s voters that they could be choosing between peace and war in this election. 

“Our stance on resolving the Taiwan question and realizing national reunification remains consistent, and our determination is as firm as rock,” said Chen Binhua, China’s Taiwan affairs office spokesperson, after Lai’s win. 

“We will adhere to the 1992 Consensus that embodies the one-China principle and firmly oppose the separatist activities aimed at ‘Taiwan independence’ as well as foreign interference.” Chen added that the DPP did not represent the island’s mainstream public opinion.

Lai and Tsai both reject China’s sovereignty claims over the self-ruled island. The DPP has not accepted the so-called “1992 Consensus,” disputing the tacit agreement for “one China” between the then-KMT government and Chinese officials, which Beijing uses as the basis for cross-straits engagement. 

Taiwan’s islandwide votes “still mainly focus on cross-strait, identity issues,” said Sean King, senior vice president at the US-based Park Strategies. 

“Considering Lai’s two opponents more or less wanted to ‘give Beijing a chance,’ it’s no wonder he came out on top,” he told Arab News.

“The result means Taiwan will keep getting closer to America and Japan, ruled by its own people.”

Lai will be running Taiwan’s top post with vice president-elect Hsiao Bi-khim, who previously served as Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to the US. 

“Lai has been clear that he will lean toward the US,” Kwei-Bo Huang, secretary-general of Taiwan’s Association of Foreign Relations, told Arab News on Sunday.

“Cross-strait relations will remain sour, and probably sourer, from now on,” he added, referring to Beijing-Taipei ties. 

“Beijing authorities may consider using some more assertive economic and diplomatic measures to corner the new president.”

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