In Taiwan’s presidential and legislative elections on 11 January 2020, Tsai Ing-wen secured a second term as president and her party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), maintained its legislative majority. The elections attracted unprecedented international attention in the context of US–China strategic competition and the hardline stance of the Chinese Communist Party in the Xi Jinping era.
Beijing continues to insist on the inevitability of ‘reunification’ and has intensified pressure on Taiwan. Meanwhile, Washington has increased the tempo of its engagement with Taipei, including arms sales, general diplomatic support and high-level interactions under the Taiwan Travel Act. The significance of the election result reaches beyond domestic party politics: the poll also reflects voters’ assessments of the successes and failures of Beijing’s Taiwan policies, US–China relations and regional security.
In the week before the elections, there was a surprising level of uncertainty about the outcome. At the end of 2018, Tsai had poor opinion poll numbers and her government had been challenged by rivals within her own party, by a stalled domestic policy agenda and by diplomatic reversals as Beijing poached Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic allies. Public opinion had turned strongly in her favour by the middle of 2019, but the DPP remained cautious up until election night. In the end, not only did Tsai secure a second term, but she received 8.17 million votes (57.13% of ballots cast), the largest number ever for a candidate since direct presidential elections began in 1996.