The 3 parties vying to replace Tsai Ing-Wen

A KMT supporter waves a giant Taiwan’s national flag outside of Central Election Commission on November 24, 2023 in Taipei, Taiwan. 

Annabelle Chih | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Taiwan’s main opposition parties have filed individual bids to unseat the ruling Democratic Progressive Party as the billionaire founder of Apple supplier Foxconn dropped out of the presidential race hours before the nomination deadline last Friday.

A potential alliance aimed at increasing the prospect of a pro-China government failed to materialize. The plan was announced last Wednesday, but imploded live on local television Thursday. Candidates from the more established Kuomintang and the smaller Taiwan People’s Party could not agree on the leader for a combined ticket.

Last week’s drama would appear to strengthen the hand of the ruling DPP government, which has been leading in independent opinion polls for the election. Taiwan’s president and vice president are directly elected, serve one term of four years and may be re-elected for one additional term.

China’s Taiwan affairs office has characterized the self-ruled island’s election as a choice between “peace and war, prosperity and decline.” This election comes as China has escalated military activity in the Taiwan Strait and other nearby waters as Beijing presses its sovereignty claims over an island it sees as its own.

Taiwan’s elections kick off a year that is littered with numerous elections globally at a time of heightened geopolitical tensions as two major wars rage on. U.S. President Joe Biden’s reelection bid bookends 2024.

The outcome of Taiwan’s elections will likely go some way in influencing testy U.S.-China ties and impact security in Asia-Pacific more broadly.

China President Xi Jinping told Biden that Taiwan has always been the “most important and sensitive” issue in China’s relations with the U.S., according to an English-language readout from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the two leaders’ first bilateral meeting in a year on the sidelines of the recent APEC leaders summit in San Francisco.

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Biden has pledged to defend Taiwan in the event of a China invasion, irking Beijing. Last year, former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, becoming the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the island in over two decades. Her trip was one reason that communication between the world’s two leading powers ground to a halt before a tentative resumption only just months ago.

These are the three parties contesting Taiwan’s Jan. 13 polls to elect a new president.

Democratic Progressive Party

Taiwan presidential candidate Lai Ching-te (L) and his running mate Hsiao Bi-khim (R), from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), gesture in front of supporters after they registered running for the 2024 presidential elections in Taipei on November 21, 2023. (Photo by Sam Yeh / AFP) (Photo by SAM YEH/AFP via Getty Images)

Sam Yeh | Afp | Getty Images

Lai Ching-te, who has served as Taiwan’s vice president since 2020, is the ruling DPP’s presidential nominee for the 2024 election.

The Oberlin College and Columbia University-educated Hsiao Bi-khim, who was most recently the Taiwanese envoy to the United States, is the vice-presidential candidate on the DPP ticket.

After Taiwan President Tsai Ing-Wen met then-U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in April, Beijing again sanctioned Hsiao, prohibiting her and her family members from entering the mainland, while also barring financial investors and other institutions who have worked with Hsiao from working with mainland entities.

Lai and Hsiao are running to succeed the incumbent Tsai, who is not running due to term limits. Lai and the DPP have consistently topped opinion polls, although the gap between Lai and second-placed Ko Wen-je has been slowly narrowing in the last few months.

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Beijing sees the DPP as separatists because the party’s foundational goal to establish Taiwan as “a sovereign, independent, and autonomous nation” runs against Beijing’s claims over the island.

Taiwan People’s Party

Ko Wen-je (right), chairman of the Taiwan People’s Party and presidential candidate, and his running mate Cynthia Wu wave after they registered for the upcoming 2024 presidential elections at the Central Elections Commission in Taipei on November 24, 2023.

Sam Yeh | Afp | Getty Images

Ko is chairman of the TPP and its presidential candidate for the 2024 elections. Ko is medically trained and was most recently the mayor of Taipei, Taiwan’s largest city and capital, from 2014 to 2022.

Cynthia Wu, his vice presidential nominee, is an alumna of Wellesley College and the eldest daughter of prominent Taiwanese business leader, Shin Kong Group founding chairman Eugene Wu.

Ko has consistently ranked second in various opinion polls. Some observers say the failure to see through a combined ticket with Kuomintang may split the opposition vote and strengthen the ruling DPP.

Kuomintang Party

Hou Yu-ih, presidential candidate for the Kuomintang and mayor of New Taipei City (left) and his running mate Jaw Shaw-kong arrive to register their candidacy at the Central Election Commission office in Taipei, Taiwan, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023.

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Hou Yu-ih is the presidential candidate for the KMT. He is formerly the director-general of Taiwan’s National Police Agency and the current mayor of New Taipei City, the broader municipality that includes the main Taipei city area.

He named prominent local television personality and talk show host Jaw Shaw-kong as his vice-presidential candidate. Jaw is also chairman of Taiwan’s Broadcasting Corporation of China.

Hou has consistently lagged both DPP’s Lai and TPP’s Ko in third in various opinion polls, though the 66-year-old was just reelected New Taipei mayor a year ago by a landslide.

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Tapping on China’s framing of this elections, Hou reiterated on Saturday his party’s warning to the Taiwanese people that voting for DPP would likely lead to war with the mainland.

Withdrawn: Terry Gou, Independent

Terry Gou (left), founder and former chairman of Foxconn and independent Taiwanese presidential candidate, joins his hand with his running mate Lai Pei-hsia during a press conference in Taipei on September 14, 2023.

Sam Yeh | Afp | Getty Images

Just hours before nominations closed, Terry Gou — better known as the billionaire founder of Hon Hai Precision Industry — withdrew his presidential bid after failing to broker an agreement among the opposition parties.

Gou has consistently lagged his rivals in opinion polls despite a publicity blitz across Taiwan after launching an independent bid for the Taiwanese presidency in August.

He has kept a low profile after the state-owned Global Times reported Oct. 22 that China was investigating Foxconn’s activities in several provinces. There were some indications in other reports that Chinese authorities may have been concerned his candidacy could split the opposition vote.

“As I step down from this presidential race, my determination to bring change to Taiwan remains strong. Taiwan needs to Stop, Reset, Restart,” Gou said Friday in a statement, where he did not clearly state his reason for withdrawal. “We need a change in the ruling political party to bring change to Taiwan.”

While he remained coy on his future plans, Gou was explicit in his criticism of Tsai and the DPP’s leadership when he launched his presidential bid, accusing them of pushing Taiwan’s economy from prosperity to “the edge of a cliff” as a result of their perceived incompetence.

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