The rumor mill has not stopped grinding even after Taiwan’s incumbent leader Tsai Ing-wen swept to another four-year term with more than eight million votes during Saturday’s presidential election.

Names have already come up as possible candidates to represent the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and the drubbed opposition Kuomintang party in the next race four years from now.

William Lai, the island’s vice president-elect, who also served as the premier under Tsai between 2017 and 2019 before becoming her running mate, has been tipped to lead the DPP to sustain its ruling status after Tsai.

In possession of a substantial loyal base, Lai almost thwarted Tsai’s reelection bid last year when he quit as the head of government to contend in the party’s primary in June.

After she managed to nose him out, the “pragmatic worker for Taiwan’s independence,” as he has described himself, moved swiftly to team up with Tsai on the same ticket. The détente between Tsai’s and Lai’s camps prevented infighting and was vital in fending off the rivals fielded by the Beijing-friendly KMT.

William Lai was given credit for preventing infighting within the DPP after agreeing to appear on the same ticket with Tsai as her running mate. Photo: Handout
Taiwanese Premier William Lai. Photo: Handout
Lai calls himself a ‘pragmatic worker for Taiwan’s independence.’ Photo: Handout

Some DPP members have started to entertain the thought of another four- or even eight-year stretch of rule by the party beyond 2024. They believe Beijing’s saber-rattling and threats of annexation will help Lai, who will likely run on a more radical separatist platform and muster more support from young voters – as seen this time around when Tsai’s popularity was lifted by Xi Jinping’s talk of replicating Hong Kong and Macau’s “one country, two systems” status for Taiwan.

Lai commanded staunch support from the hardline faction within the independence-leaning DPP when he faced off Tsai in the June primary, and he may turn out to be a much bigger headache for Xi if elected to the top job. He once took potshots at Tsai for weaseling her words about the island’s independence and for her failure to stand up against Beijing’s bullying.

Lai’s tack to foster effective governance is also lauded as he was voted the island’s best-performing mayor during his eight-year tenure as the head of the southern city of Tainan.

As for the KMT, it may befriend and pin hopes on Terry Gou, founder of the original equipment manufacturer and Apple partner Foxconn. The richest businessman in Taiwan with a net worth of US$7.9 billion quit his KMT membership after losing the primary to Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu – but Taiwanese papers say Tsai’s reelection may in turn rekindle Gou’s ambitions for 2024.

Han, KMT’s presidential candidate, apologizes to his supporters after conceding his defeat. Photo: Facebook

Han, the KMT candidate who won 2.64 million fewer votes than Tsai, will quickly fade into history as he bows out of politics. Han said he intended to finish the reminder of his tenure in Kaohsiung after conceding the defeat, but an impeachment motion is already waiting for him at the city’s council. Still, there are also calls for him to be the KMT’s chairman after Wu Den-yih offered to step down to take responsibility for the party’s worst ever showing.

Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je has more political capital to back any decision to throw his hat into the ring in 2024 after the Taiwan People Party, which he founded last year, became the third largest party after only the DPP and KMT in the Legislative Yuan – grabbing five seats in a poll held alongside the presidential race.

Beijing media say voters deceived by Tsai and US

Meanwhile in Beijing, state media outlets have been setting the stage for a demolition job against Tsai and the DPP as Beijing ponders how to rejig policies to deal with another four years under Tsai.

In an op-ed, Xinhua accused Tsai of abusing her powers and resources as an incumbent, using them for “disinformation and fear-mongering” targeting Han and the mainland to sway people’s sentiment.

The Chinese state news agency went on so far as to suggest that those who voted for Tsai and the DPP had all been misled by the “blatant US meddling” while Tsai was busily doing Washington’s bidding. But, as always, these allegations have fallen short of providing proof.

“One single election cannot reverse the tide of  history, as well as Taiwan’s fate of ultimate reunification with the motherland,” the article read. “The mainland has a big policy toolbox and, given the yawning disparity in sizes and strengths between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, the mainland maintains its absolute control of the cross-strait ties with confidence and composure.”

Tsai met with US and Japanese diplomats and guests, including the director of the de-facto US embassy the American Institute in Taiwan, following her reelection. Photo: Facebook

The Chinese foreign ministry has also protested against alleged intervention in “China’s local governance and affairs” after US and Japanese envoys in Taiwan congratulated Tsai and discussed plans to further cement ties in separate meetings one day after her reelection.

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