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Taiwan Votes To Reelect President Tsai Ing-Wen


In Taiwan, President Tsai Ing-wen has won reelection with a record number of votes. It was one of the island's most intensely contested elections ever. And it's a stunning comeback, as Beijing's efforts to control Taiwan backfire. Here's NPR's Emily Feng from the streets of Taipei, where voters made their choice loud and clear.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: The thousands gathered outside Tsai's campaign headquarters roared as vote tallies for her reached nearly 8.2 million votes, the highest number ever received by a Taiwanese president. Taiwan's election this weekend was a watershed moment, a referendum between two choices represented by two very different presidential candidates - on one side, Tsai promising to protect Taiwan's freedoms from an authoritarian China.


TSAI ING-WEN: (Through interpreter) I hope that Beijing can understand that a democratic Taiwan and our democratically elected government will not concede to threats and intimidation, that the results that this election gave made that answer crystal-clear.

FENG: On the other side, the Kuomintang party's Han Kuo-yu - Han had a very different message at his rally this week, emphasizing economic development and financial security by seeking closer ties with China.


HAN KUO-YU: (Through interpreter) The DPP have been cutting away at Chinese culture, severing the connections and commonalities between our Confucian societies and leaving Taiwan smaller and lonelier than ever in the world.

FENG: On election day, uncharacteristic lines formed outside voting stations, even as disinformation encouraged voters to stay home over fears of a pneumonia-like virus currently active in China. Nearly 75% of registered voters turned out anyways, higher than the last election. A scandal was also swirling. Days earlier, a politician from the opposition Kuomintang party allegedly tried to pay off a supposed former Chinese spy to smear Tsai and her party.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Mandarin).

FENG: These fears of sabotage from Beijing mean Taiwan takes painstaking measures to ensure accurate election results.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Mandarin).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Mandarin).

FENG: I'm in a vote-counting station right now. To prevent vote tampering and fraud, every paper ballot is physically counted in the station where it was cast. The vote counters are literally holding up the colored sheets of paper, reading out loud what the vote preference was. Someone notes it down on a sheet of paper, and all those results are tallied at the end of the night for the final result.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Mandarin).

FENG: The results were clear within four hours. Tsai won with more than 57% of the vote, beating Han Kuo-yu by nearly 20 percentage points.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in Mandarin).

FENG: Tsai's Democratic Progressive Party also won a majority in Taiwan's legislature. Their victory could set Taiwan on a new path for the next four years. Tsai's supporters are overwhelmingly younger and want independence from China, a direct challenge to Beijing's stated ambition of invading and unifying Taiwan.

Celebrating this weekend were not just Taiwanese voters. Thousands of Hong Kongers, like Samantha Lu, took a break from protests against Beijing's control of Hong Kong to fly to Taipei to show their support.

Can I ask you why you came so far?

SAMANTHA LU: Because this is the only country of Chinese community that enjoy real democracy and real freedom of speech.

FENG: And once you lose this freedom, said Samantha, it's not easy to get it back.

Emily Feng, NPR News, Taipei, Taiwan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.