Young voters will play an important role in Taiwan’s elections on Saturday (Jan 16). Many of them will be voting for the first time - and from the look of things, they seem to favour the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
The growing sense of Taiwanese identity among this younger generation echoes the political platform of the DPP, which has traditionally favoured Taiwan's independence from the mainland. At local elections last year, the party crushed the ruling Kuomintang (KMT), thanks to strong support from young voters.
With cross-strait relations at the forefront of the election campaign - the KMT continually highlights its efforts to improve ties with China – young voters say they feel more Taiwanese than Chinese and are thus more attracted to the pro-independence ethos of the DPP.
“People from our generation were born and raised in Taiwan,” said a student from the National Taiwan University. “I’m Taiwanese – and we have very little connection with China.”
There are nearly 1.3 million first-time voters, aged 20 to 24, and although they make up only 7 per cent of the island’s eligible voters, observers say this group will play a decisive role in shaping the outcome of the elections.
“A LEADER WHO CAN STAND UP TO BEIJING”
Opinion polls have shown that more than half of young voters support Tsai Ing-wen, the presidential candidate from the DPP. Support has grown especially after the Sunflower Movement of March 2014, when student protesters occupied the legislature to block a trade deal with China.
The protesters feared the deal would hurt Taiwan’s economy and leave it vulnerable to political pressure from Beijing. The protest highlighted the growing sense of unease many young Taiwanese have towards closer ties with China under the KMT, which is friendly towards Beijing.
“These young voters don’t necessarily belong to the blue (KMT) or green (DPP) camps,” said Tan Li-An, General Manager, Taiwan Indicators Survey Research (TISR). “They only demand what’s right and fair.”
A poll by TISR shows more than 80 per cent of Taiwanese under the age of 30 oppose reunification with the mainland. Many of them also see Ms Tsai as a leader who can stand up to Beijing without escalating tensions across the strait.
“Tsai Ing-wen’s China policy is to maintain status quo across the strait,” said Mr Tan. “She is not taking a provocative position. So in a way, she attracts more voters.”
These young, first-time voters are no doubt the future of Taiwan - and their future too, will depend on who they pick as the island’s next leader.