On Saturday, Jan. 16, Taiwan will hold a critical election that is likely to see the country vote in its first female president, Tsai Ing-wen. If elected, Tsai, who currently holds a double-digit lead in most polls, would herald a new era of politics in Taiwan and establish only the second government led by the liberal Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), after more than seven decades of political dominance by the nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) party.
Adding to the intrigue is the race between the DPP and the KMT for the legislature, known as the Legislative Yuan. The KMT currently has 64 of its 113 seats, all of which are being contested in Saturday’s election. If Tsai’s party wins the Legislative Yuan as well as the presidency, it would give the DPP an unprecedented amount of authority to rule—and it would mean the KMT losing control of the legislature for the first time in Taiwan’s history. An outright DPP legislative victory is less certain than the results of the presidential election, but most polls are currently predicting a DPP majority there.
The election in Taiwan will be closely watched in the region, especially in China, which fears that ties with Taiwan, which were warming under the tenure of the current president, Ma Ying-jeou, may cool with Tsai in office. But it isn’t just Beijing. Other countries in the region will also be monitoring the results, in particular Japan. Tokyo’s relationship with Taipei is complex and suffers from many of the same historical legacies and grievances that continue to inhibit Japan’s relations with other neighbors, including China and South Korea—although ties with the latter did improve last month with a deal over the painful issue of “comfort women” during World War II. Despite their differences, Japan and Taiwan have largely been able to transcend them and focus more on a stable strategic relationship, buttressed by trade and common values, such as democracy and the rule of law.