by Chieh-Ting Yeh

Photo Credit: Lai Ching-te/Facebook

The following article is part of a special joint issue between New Bloom and Taiwan Insight on the 2024 elections. 

IT IS NO DOUBT that January 13, 2024, marked a pivotal moment in Taiwan’s political landscape as William Lai Ching-te emerged victorious in the presidential election, securing the mantle from Tsai Ing-wen. Garnering 5.59 million votes, Lai clinched 40.05% of the total ballots, signaling a new chapter in Taiwan’s leadership. Moreover, these elections had received the highest level of attention from the international community in recent memory, with roughly over 400 foreign media personnel in Taiwan covering the event.

As recent developments transition into a period of stability, the focus shifts towards what lies ahead. The incoming government faces pivotal questions: How will President Lai’s four-year term compare to President Tsai’s preceding eight years? What key challenges await immediate attention from President Lai? Additionally, it’s crucial to consider the direction in which Taiwan is heading to carve its unique identity in the global landscape.


TO EFFECTIVELY ASSESS how President Lai’s tenure will align with or diverge from President Tsai’s era, the Lai Administration needs to understand the evolving political context.

This election outcome is unprecedented, marking the first instance of a political party securing a third consecutive term. This signifies the electorate’s preference for the ruling party’s governance, albeit under new leadership. Consequently, the Lai Administration is tasked with a delicate act: ensuring continuity with the past administration while acknowledging and rectifying previous shortcomings and simultaneously carving out its own distinct legacy. Since this political reality is unprecedented, the Taiwanese public will have to navigate it as uncharted waters.

Second, the legislature reflects a much more fractured will of the people than in the last eight years. Throughout Tsai’s tenure, her party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), enjoyed an absolute majority. That is no longer the case; the DPP will only have fifty-one seats in the new legislature, which is six seats short of a majority. The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) is now the largest, but only with one more seat than the DPP at 52 seats. Ko Wen-je’s Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), at eight seats, now holds the swing vote. With the TPP aligning much closer with the KMT in its disdain for the ruling DPP, the two are expected to vote together as a bloc more often than not. In other words, the Lai Administration will be dealing with a hostile parliament that could stall or derail any substantive legislative agenda.

Compared to the last eight years, everything is more treacherous than when Tsai Ing-wen was president. Even if Lai hopes to continue Tsai’s policies, the legislature will make it more difficult. Still, Lai must also find a way to show that his administration is able to improve on the previous one in order to win over voter support.


AMONG THE ISSUES for the new administration to tackle, domestic economic and welfare issues will probably rank at the top, especially the problem of housing costs. This issue was one of the most cited by younger voters for turning away from the DPP.

Another issue is the perceived income and wealth stagnation and inequality. The Tsai Administration had done a remarkable job strengthening Taiwan’s overall economy, given the uncertainty in the global economy; however, the fruits of that growth have not been felt by a large segment of the society, especially again, the younger voters.

These observations point to the fact that Taiwan’s domestic economic conundrums have less to do with whether wealth is growing in Taiwan and more to do with generational justice. The generation of Taiwanese who built their wealth during the rapid economic growth of Taiwan’s industrialization still has a hard grip on that wealth, including locking the wealth into real estate instead of capital investments. Not only does that cause housing prices to remain high, but the lack of capital investment means the loss of many opportunities for young people.

In addressing the challenges ahead, the Lai Administration is likely to employ diverse policy strategies, including tax reforms, aimed at mitigating these issues. However, it’s important to note that initiatives designed to benefit the younger generation may potentially clash with the interests of the older demographic.

In terms of foreign affairs, the Lai Administration will, of course, have to contend with the United States and China. Beijing is expected to continue its isolationist and intimidation tactics towards Taiwan, for example, the most recent case of Nauru switching diplomatic relations to China. While Nauru may not be a significant part of Taiwan’s foreign affairs in practice, the move is designed to send the message that China can pick off Taiwan’s allies whenever it wishes. Beijing will also likely continue refusing Taipei’s calls for resuming dialogues in order to pressure President Lai to weaken his and his party’s stance.

As for the United States, even though US-Taiwan relations have reached new heights under the Tsai Administration, the Lai Administration will have to engage the US in much more substantive negotiations over security cooperation and trade, for example, the contentious parts of the U.S.-Taiwan Initiative on 21st Century Trade.

Outside of the two superpowers, President Lai will also need to build stronger regional relationships, with powers such as Japan and India, but also with ASEAN nations. Taiwan’s membership in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) is now uncertain, given China’s application, but the Lai Administration must proactively push for Taiwan’s inclusion.

Finally, the Lai Administration could use a more comprehensive and coherent policy to manage the geopolitical implications of Taiwan’s semiconductor industry. Many international stakeholders consider semiconductor chips as a strategic good. They will not be shy about using geopolitical levers to deal with Taiwan’s semiconductor industry, including Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) and all of its supply chain partners. The Lai Administration needs a nuanced policy to help the industry navigate geopolitical risks while still allowing it to make market-based decisions.


LAI CHING-TE DID NOT win the 2024 election with a majority. And yet, he is the duly, legally elected president of Taiwan for the next four years. As such, he has a responsibility to persuade the entire country—especially those who did not vote for him—that he has a vision that can motivate and inspire the people. I’ve written on the legacy of Tsai Ing-wen and hopes for her successor:

[Tsai’s] biggest legacy will be the start of a new chapter in Taiwan’s identity as a nation. In the face of mounting Chinese belligerence, she has become the caregiver to a nascent but growing Taiwanese assertiveness. To the rest of the world, she is now the face of a state with a quiet but credible voice in international affairs. She may not have pioneered those trends herself, yet she took them on confidently.

Tsai will not, however, be remembered as an innovative leader, which is just as well for now. The next leader of Taiwan may not be so lucky; he or she may have to be much more proactive for Taiwan to come out ahead in the face of an ever more uncertain world.

Regrettably, much of the period preceding the 2024 elections was consumed by internal conflicts within the opposition, overshadowing efforts to present a compelling and visionary plan for Taiwan’s future. Nevertheless, amidst this backdrop, Taiwan has selected its new leader, albeit with a degree of hesitancy. President Lai may yet inspire the Taiwanese people and prove to the world that Taiwan is not a liability for global stability, but an asset.

As the global attention on Taiwan’s election winds down, voters in Taiwan head back to their normal lives this week. They are not just voters who “defy China” with a ballot. They are parents and children, storekeepers and caretakers, executives and employees, commuters and students, lovers, and mourners—real people each living their lives every day to the fullest, all with passion and hope for the land that they live in, but more importantly, the community of fellow citizens. These are the people whom the new president, as well as the new legislature, ultimately serves.

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