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Taiwan just elected their First Female President, and you should get to know her

Binjal Shah
20th Jan 2016
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The South-East Asian region is no stranger to giving the world women with grit to reckon with. Joining the powerpacked league which has patrons like Myanmar’s Aug San Suu Kyi and South Korea’s Park Guen Hye, is the first female president elected in the history of Taiwan, 59-year-old Tsai Ing-Wen. Winning what has been indisputably declared as a landslide victory over ruling party Kuomintang’s candidate Eric Chu, the chairperson of DPP –the ruling opposition party, will succeed incumbent president Ma Ying Jeou.

Set to assume the mantle in February, all eyes are on Tsai for what direction she chooses to take the politically and economically dithering island. Here is a guide to the background, career, talents and life’s milestones of the women touted to be among Asia’s most powerful:

Tsai Ing Wen for YourStory
Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Upbringing

Ing-Wen’s victory is a series of firsts for the country – she is the first president-elect to be of Hakka and Aboriginal descent, first single president and also the first to have never held office in a post requiring an election, before her presidential victory.

She also happens to be the first woman to have made inroads to Taiwan’s apex without the backing of a political family, and instead, belongs to a family of academics. She herself studied law in Taiwan, the US and then Britain. Tsai is an LL.B. at National Taiwan University, an LL.M. at Cornell University Law School and a Ph.D. at the London School of Economics. Much contrary to politics, Tsai has been a professor at several universities. Currently an unmarried independent woman without children even, her face on campaigning posters and her social media with her two cats is no alien sight, much to the delight of the internet. But unlike her more mainstream peers, she is largely a private person and has stayed off the radar.

First Trysts with Politics

Her first brush with politics came in 1993, she has served the government by way of holding positions in several capacities, under the tutelage of the then-ruling KMT. As a drafters of the special state-to-state relations doctrine of then President Lee Teng-hui.

In 2000, she was appointed chairperson of the Mainland Affairs Council in 2000, which was her role until 2004, when she jumped ship to then rival party DPP as “legislator at large.” Since then, Tsai had been eyeing an elected position as mayor, by contesting albeit losing the mayor race of the capital city, Taipei, in 2010. She made a comeback in 2012, this time, with presidential ambitions, but didn’t manage to snag a victory. Both elections were lost to candidates of the leading national party KMT.

The Victory

Since she lost in 2012, her perseverance coupled with the economic unrest in the country acted as conducive circumstances for her to strike again. Basing her campaign on righting the wrongs of incumbent party – noteworthy dealbreaker for voters being a recent rapprochement with China under Ma’s regime, and a measly economic growth of only 1 percent- she stood for elections a second time, earlier this month, and this time, piercing the target. Her victory has been registered as one with the greatest majority of all time in the island’s history, as she swept public vote with around 60 percent, against Chu’s 30 percent. With this, she surpassed the 2008 record of 58.45 percent set by the same candidate she had lost to in 2012 – Ma Ying-Jeou.

Her Agenda

A New York Times article points out how she often likens her style of governance to that of Angela Merkel – in that her main agenda would be to bring stability to the 67 year old country still recovering from its separation from the Chinese Mainland, and trying to forge its own identity in a limbo period, as it has never declared independence, and Beijing only treats the civil war as a setback which will be overcome with reunification.

A supporter brought a banner to the rally after her victory, saying: “Taiwan is not part of China. Support Taiwan.”

All these are just indicators of the country’s current turmoil – a dangerously stagnant economy after many trial-and-error trade pacts signed with China failed to impact the lives of the Taiwanese. Although Tsai has repeatedly made her stance on Taiwan-China relations clear, stating she wants to “maintain the status quo,” the party’s overtly pro-indolence ideology has led analysts to believe she will alter relations with China, possibly inducing instability.

In conclusion, Expectations from the newest woman face of South East Asian Politics:

A moderate on Taiwan’s foreign policy with China, according to a CNN article, she chooses to maintain prevailing state of affairs, rather than riding on the openly seditious wave of her party’s veteran Shui-Bian, who was president in 2000.

It won’t be incorrect to infer that Tsai’s election might facilitate the new feminist wave in Taiwanese Politics. Undoubtedly bolstered by Taiwan’s 1/3rd quota for women in the legislature, she has also been amongst the frontrunner line of supporters for the game-changing policies for women in the workplace the “Gender Equality in Employment Act,” which entitled women to maternity leave rights, touted to eliminate sex discrimination in hiring, and instated and amended anti sexual-harassment laws. A champion of encouraging leadership in women, she stated that the youth of Taiwan is certainly ready to accept a woman in power, saying it is the “trendy thing”. “Whether you are male or female, we have a great deal to learn by studying female leadership qualities,” she had said at a forum in Silicon Valley. “Attentiveness, tolerance, calm, flexibility and organization — not only women, but every leader should strive for these qualities.”

She is also an outspoken supporter of LGBT rights, and her election might draw the rainbow coloured filter on Taiwan’s policy for same sex marriage forever – as she has declared herself a supporter of the same. “Love is Every person should be able to look for love freely, and freely seek their own happiness,” she had said at a past LGBT rights rally.

Image Credits: Wikipedia Commons

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