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Taiwan prepares for a vote that could shake the world

todayJanuary 13, 2024 7

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Taiwan prepares for a vote that could shake the world

There is pride and patriotism in Taipei on the last day of campaigning before a vote that could shake the world.

At the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) final rally, thousands gather waving flags and screaming along to songs.

Some jump up and down with excitement – one young man with a pride banner openly weeps.

Lai Ching-te is the DPP candidate and the person most likely to win.

Taiwan Vice President and Democratic Progressive Party presidential candidate Lai Ching-te, who also goes by William, speaks a rally southern Taiwan's Tainan city on Friday, Jan. 12, 2024 ahead of the presidential election on Saturday. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

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DPP presidential candidate Lai Ching-te. Pic: AP

Taiwan Election grab -  H-A Smith eyewitness

His party was formed from a protest movement, but now stands squarely behind one key message: standing up to China.

Election season in Taiwan is always about so much more than just domestic policy, it is about people asking themselves who they are, how they identify and how they feel about their powerful neighbour.

In his speech, Mr Lai invoked former instances when China fired missiles at the island.

“I gave up my well-paid job and decided to follow the footsteps of our elders in democracy,” he said.

Indeed, he is framing this whole election as a choice between democracy and autocracy.

Taiwan Election grab -  H-A Smith eyewitness

That message has clearly landed with the people we spoke to here, most were unequivocal about what their motivations are.

“China wants to take over Taiwan,” one woman told us. “This election is about freedom, democracy and human rights.”

Choice between ‘war and peace’

Of course, China sees DPP supporters as separatists and sees Taiwan as a breakaway province that will soon be reunified, if necessary by force.

That context weighs heavily on voters.

Indeed, cross-strait relations have plummeted in recent years and China has described the vote as a choice between “war and peace”.

The opposition candidate Hou Yu-ih has used a similar framing, he wants greater dialogue with the mainland.

Taiwan's Nationalist Party presidential candidate Hou Yu-ih listens to a question during an international press conference in New Taipei, Taiwan, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024. Taiwan will hold its presidential election on Jan. 13. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)

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Taiwan’s Nationalist Party presidential candidate Hou Yu-ih. Pic: AP

His supporters are equally passionate, albeit with a slightly older average age, many of them want to talk about peace.

“I feel like the DPP has been causing chaos,” one woman told us. “It seems like they want the mainland to attack us.”

But Mr Hou has also been criticised for lacking a long-term strategy, when I asked him directly if he believes the status quo could last forever he evaded the question,

“The current situation under the DPP, is no longer the status quo,” he said.

“It’s gradually shifted, due to the confrontation between the two sides, we are on the brink of war.”

A three-horse race?

Ko Wen-je - H-A Smith eyewitness VT

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Ko Wen-je is popular among younger voters

There is a third force in this vote, a new party, the TPP, led by a man called Ko Wen-je.

He’s been attracting a lot of younger voters with his focus on domestic issues as hundreds queued round the streets to see him.

His party could yet disrupt things.

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Disinformation could prove most destructive

But potentially the most disruptive force this time round is election interference with major concerns about the amount of disinformation flooding Taiwanese social media.

At a small firm called the Doublethink Lab, they are tracking the videos as they appear, trying to detect where they are from and how they are amplifying.

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Disinformation spread in Taiwan election

A lot are accusing Lai of things like extramarital affairs. Many of them are AI-generated and have clear signs they are coming from China.

“Foreign actors, they have almost unlimited resources and they have a clear goal to influence our own election. It’s an imbalanced fight,” Doublethink’s chief executive tells us.

It’s unclear how China will react to the vote, it has remained relatively quiet this week.

Taiwan is one of the most progressive places in Asia, but its politics remain some of the most complicated and some of the most high stakes.

Written by: Newsroom

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