Taiwan VP Lai Elected New Leader of Ruling Party

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Taiwan Vice President William Lai speaks during a discussion with young DPP members in Taipei on Jan.7.

TAIPEI ― Taiwan’s Vice President William Lai has been elected to lead the ruling Democratic Progressive Party. The 63-year-old replaces President Tsai Ing-wen, who had resigned as party head following the DPP’s heavy defeat in recent elections.

Lai ran unopposed in Sunday’s party leadership election. He is seen as the party’s leading candidate for the next presidential election in a year’s time, but polls show that public support for Lai has been sluggish, increasing uncertainty about whether the DPP will retain the presidency.

“This is the beginning of the party regaining trust,” Lai said on a social media account after the election. “I will protect Taiwan and promote democracy, peace and prosperity.”

With only 17.59% of party members voting, Lai received 99.65% of the vote. He will serve as party head until May 2024, when Tsai’s second term as Taiwan president comes to an end.

Lai, originally a physician, is a powerful figure who had served as mayor of Tainan and prime minister. Tsai had mentioned Lai as a possible successor at a press conference late last year regarding the 2024 presidential election. Within the party, there are growing calls for Lai’s candidacy, and it is widely expected that Lai will be the party’s official candidate in the presidential election.

However, Lai’s chances of winning the presidential election are not optimistic, given DPP’s heavy loss in local elections last November to the largest opposition party, the Kuomintang.

A poll conducted last December by the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation showed that only 29% of respondents wanted Lai as the next president, lower than the 38.7% for the KMT’s New Taipei City Mayor Hou Yu-ih. The DPP and KMT had about the same level of party support, according to the poll.

Depending on who the KMT chooses as its official candidate, the presidential election could be an intense battle.

The loss of support from youths and the middle class is one of the main reasons for the DPP’s heavy defeat in the local elections.

“We will sincerely consider the choices of young people in the election and use it as an opportunity for reform,” Lai said in a discussion with young party members on Jan. 7.

Lai’s challenge will be to address the sources of public discontent, such as low wages and declining birth rates, and to unify the party. Regarding relations with China, which will be a focal point of the election, Lai intends to continue Tsai’s line of maintaining the status quo and hopes to garner public support.