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ISSN 2816-1971

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  • Chunhao Chang

The 2024 Taiwanese General Elections and the Future Challenges for Kuomintang

Many eyes were turned on the island of Taiwan in January as it held its 2024 General Elections. The results of the elections did not favour either of the major parties on the island, but would seem to raise more questions for the future of the Kuomintang.


Photo credits: Ann Wang/Reuters

The 2024 Taiwanese presidential and legislative elections produced a result which may lead to a “double minority” constitutional structure. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), led by Lai Ching-Te (William Lai), won the presidency with 40% of the vote. However, the DPP lost its majority in the Legislative Yuan and held on to just 51 out of 113 legislative seats. In contrast, the main opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), received only 33.5% of the presidential vote but emerged as the largest party in the legislature after winning 52 seats. The election result will put Taiwan’s ‘semi-presidential’ institutional structure to the test, as the party that controls the executive no longer controls the legislature. This may have implications for the DPP’s planned legislative agenda, as it has to adjust to this reality of having no majority in the Legislative Yuan.

 

This election result also raises questions for the KMT. The KMT has not won a presidential election since Ma Ying-Jeou’s election victory in 2012. It has also performed poorly in legislative elections as it lost its majority in the Legislative Yuan in 2016 and has not been able to regain this majority in any subsequent election. To be clear, even though the DPP lost its legislative majority in 2024, the KMT failed to make inroads and did not gain a majority in the Legislative Yuan. With a record of poor electoral performance in the last decade, leadership issues and questions about factionalism surrounding the KMT, can the party address these challenges and reverse its downward electoral trajectory?

 

It is vital to note that in terms of electoral competition, the DPP is not the only party that the KMT has to contend with. Along with the DPP and the KMT, The Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), won over 26% of the presidential vote and 8 seats in the Legislative Yuan. In effect, given the composition of seats that each party holds in the legislature, the TPP has emerged as the ‘kingmaker’. This presents challenges for the KMT’s hopes of dominating the legislature and counterbalancing the DPP headed executive.

 

How the relationship between the three parties takes shape in the Legislative Yuan remains to be seen. The TPP, as the kingmaker and swing-vote bloc, could collaborate with either the KMT or DPP, fostering a competitive yet cooperative relationship among the three parties. Crucially, there is also some overlap between the three parties when it comes to some political issues.

 

For instance, the DPP and the TPP both appeal to young voters and the TPP did win significant support from this particular demographic group. Therefore, it may be possible for the DPP and the TPP to work together on legislation that focuses on youth-related issues. Similarly, the TPP’s position on cross-strait issues is closer to the KMT than the DPP. This may also result in the KMT and the TPP working together on cross-strait issues.

 

However, the TPP may ask for significant concessions from the KMT in order to support KMT sponsored legislation, given that it has significant ‘blackmail potential’ and is effectively the kingmaker in the Legislative Yuan. It is also vital to note that during the election campaign, relations between the TPP and the KMT were tense and initial plans for a joint KMT-TPP presidential ticket did not eventuate due to differences between the two party leaders. Factors such as the unpredictable nature of Ko Wen-Je’s leadership of the TPP may also affect how the KMT-TPP relationship evolves during this parliamentary term.

 

For the KMT, the emergence of the TPP as a viable third party in the Legislative Yuan has introduced a new ‘veto player’, making it more challenging for the KMT to use its position in the Legislative Yuan to effectively challenge the DPP executive. In effect, the challenge for the KMT is that it will have to make significant concessions to the TPP if it wishes to effectively control the legislature. However, the political cost of these concessions may have implications for the KMT and on the party’s ability to maintain its political voter base.

 

Beyond the complexities of legislative control, there are other internal factors which will determine whether the KMT is successfully able to address the challenges which the party faces. The party’s position on cross-strait relations is a crucial determinant in this regard.

 

The KMT has long been perceived as favouring a China-leaning stance, in sharp contrast to the DPP which has emphasized and advocated for Taiwanese nationalism. Public opinion polls have indicated that a significant proportion of Taiwanese people today prefer adhering to the status quo and support for establishing closer relations with Beijing- as advocated by the KMT- has dropped in recent years. This is particularly the case with young voters, who perceive themselves as having a distinct Taiwanese identity. In effect, the KMT struggles to appeal to young voters due to its stance on cross-strait relations.

 

The party’s position on cross-strait relations also has implications for internal party unity. The party’s stance on cross-strait relations further exacerbates existing divisions between the traditionalists and reformists within the party. To be clear, the KMT’s position on cross-strait relations combined with internal resistance for reform within the party is hampering efforts aimed at revitalizing the party’s image.

 

Questions are also being raised about the party’s competence and the party’s integrity. The election of KMT’s Han Kuo-Yu as the Speaker of the KMT is a case in point. Han's history as the recalled Mayor of Kaohsiung not only exacerbates the party’s negative image but his strong personality and style raise doubts over whether he will be able to maintain political neutrality in his role as Speaker.

 

In the 2024 Taiwanese presidential election, the KMT's defeat allowed the DPP to break the "eight-year curse" in which no political party has won the presidency for more than eight consecutive years in Taiwan’s democratic history. The KMT’s candidate, Hou You-Yi, trailed DPP’s Lai Ching-Te by nearly one million votes. Hou’s vote percentage even fell below that of the KMT in the legislative elections, marking a great challenge for the party’s aspirations in the 2028 presidential race.

 

Despite Beijing calling Lai a ‘separatist’ and a ‘troublemaker’, the presidential election outcome shows that more Taiwanese people support the DPP’s policy of maintaining the current president's foreign policy approach of maintaining a distance from Beijing and continuing to deepen ties with the U.S. The unanswered question for the KMT is how it appeals to the electorate in this environment wherein the party’s long held position on cross-strait relations is diametrically opposed to the position a significant proportion of the electorate. Along with its position on cross-strait relations, how the party addresses its internal factionalism and leadership woes will determine whether the party is successfully able to rebuild its image and reclaim some lost electoral ground in the future.

DISCLAIMER: All views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent that of IIPA and this platform.

 
Author

Chang Chunhao is Professor in the Department of Political Science at Tunghai University, Taiwan and also serves as Advisory Committee Member for The Mainland Affairs Council, Taiwan.

 

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