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Tough road ahead for Tsai and Hung

Tough road ahead for Tsai and Hung

In just less than six months away, voters in Taiwan will have their pick of a first female president. Not only would it change the face of the island’s young democracy – which only began to sprout in the late 80s through early 90s – Taiwan would become the latest in a series of Asian nations to elect a female leader, following Thailand, the Philippines and South Korea.

The contention between Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) Tsai Ing-wen and Kuomintang’s (KMT) Hung Hsiu-chu will become even more tense as we close in on the presidential elections next January.

As each side of the campaigning teams begins to wave their magic wand to lure in popular supports, the challenges that lie ahead for Tsai and Hung have proven to be even more difficult than ever before.

One thing for sure is that Taiwan’s democracy is slowly maturing. Long gone are the days of an authoritarian regime that is the old KMT, where the Taiwanese are expected to obey and chew on whatever the government throws at them. It is of no surprise that the people today are more opinionated than they ever were over two decades ago.

For both candidates, the path to being elected is an arduous one. The younger generation of Taiwanese born in the 90s can no longer be viewed as politically apathetic and civically disengaged.

The sunflower student movement last year is evident enough that the young ones care, who protested a services trade pact with China because it would hurt Taiwan's economy and leave it vulnerable to political pressure from Beijing. The proposed trade agreement brought up by President Ma Ying-jeou was a hard sell that didn’t work out.

Again, in a recent vis-a-vis against the nationalist government, high-school students protested at the Ministry of Education in Taipei, piling up school textbooks at the main gate and shouting protests against "brainwashing education." The students say changes to the high school curriculum, due to be introduced in September, undermine the island's sovereignty and have been introduced without proper consultation.

Both incidences show that the KMT’s old habits die hard. One thing for certain is that Hung will find the island’s young populace a tough nut to crack, especially when compared to the generation of Taiwanese raised during the martial law era. Although she wouldn’t have to deal with the high-school students (who aren’t eligible to vote yet), they are nevertheless a noisy and influential group, and will be watching the outcome of the January 16 presidential elections more keenly than almost anyone else.

Reaching young voters is hard, even for both parties. In the long run, however, wooing young voters is of paramount importance.

Another challenge besides Taiwan’s identity politics is that the focus should also be on its economy. The two contenders would have to come up with strong plans to solve the island’s economic woes, whose citizens have not seen their paychecks rise in more than a decade.

As Taiwan’s competitiveness dwindles coupled with stagnant wages that fuel a brain drain to Hong Kong and Singapore, graduates with bachelor's degrees have seen salaries shrink, from an average of NT$28,511 in 1999 to NT$26,915 in 2013, according to the Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics (DGBAS).

The World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Index has listed policy instability, restrictive labor regulation and inefficient government bureaucracy as the key obstacles to doing business in Taiwan.

While we watch with some anxiety to see who becomes president next year, whoever wins will have to face a tough challenge to reform the economy to give the island's young a better future.

Updated : 2021-09-23 15:22 GMT+08:00