Profile: Taiwanese President-Elect Tsai Ing-wen

Meet Tsai Ing-wen:

Tsai Ing-wen was born on August 31, 1956 in Taipei, Taiwan. The daughter of automobile repair shop owners, she dreamed of studying history before switching to the more practical study of law. Following graduation from the College of Law at the National Taiwan University, Tsai earned a Masters of Laws at Cornell University and a Ph.D. in Law from the London School of Economics. During her early years as a law professor, Tsai served as an advisor to the Taiwanese government on issues such as Taiwan’s accession to the World Trade Organization. She began an active political career in 2000 as the chairwoman of the Mainland Affairs Council, which manages interactions with China. Tsai joined the Democratic Progressive Party in 2004, becoming chairwoman in 2008. She previously ran for president in 2012, resigning after her defeat to President Ma Ying-jeou.

Hot Off the Presses: Tsai’s Headlines

As of her victory on January 16, 2016, Tsai made headlines as the first female president of Taiwan and is among few female leaders across Asia. Tsai won with 56.1 percent of the vote, with a wide margin over competitors Eric Chu of the nationalist Kuomintang, who garnered 30.1 percent, and James Soong, of the People First Party, who earned the remaining 12.8. Tsai’s party, the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), won both the presidential and legislative elections, gaining 68 out of 113 regional representative seats. This election marks the second time that DDP has won in an open contest. The DPP first held majority a majority of legislative seats from 2000 to 2008, with the leadership of President Chen Shui-bian.

What’s Coming: Tsai’s Next Moves

Following her inauguration in May, Tsai will focus delivering on her campaign platform: to address domestic frustrations over sluggish economic growth. In 2015, the Taiwanese economy expanded by less than 1 percent, with contraction in the fourth quarter. Near economic stagnation has contributed to a widening wealth inequality and persistently low wages. Unfavorable economic conditions have led many Taiwanese workers to immigrate to surrounding countries (particularly southern China). As reported in the New York Times, a study of Taiwanese immigration records found that 600,000 people in 2013 spent more than six months abroad, with three of four people in China. To combat these challenges, Tsai proposes a plethora of initiatives, including pension reform, construction of low-cost housing, and developing industrial and manufacturing zones. In contrast with competing presidential candidate Eric Chu, Tsai outlines regional trade pacts as a key means of economic revival. Chu, similar to President Ma Ying-jeou, emphasized increased trade and investment with China as the primary avenue to growth.

Managing tensions with the mainland is another key challenge facing Tsai’s administration. President Ma Ying-jeou favored a warming of diplomatic and economic ties, culminating in November in the first meeting between a Taiwanese and Chinese President in more than 60 years. While Tsai has called for a “new era” of cross-strait relations, she is unlikely to disrupt the status quo without direct cause. Instead of reversing Ma administration policies, Tsai wants to improve the diversity of Taiwan’s trade partners and join the Trans-Pacific Partnership as a means of combating the dominance of China within Taiwan’s economic relations. With both economic initiatives and international priorities, Tsai’s challenge will be to address and follow through on campaign promises that set expectations high for presidency.

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