Jul 20, 2015

Taiwan: Joining the Ranks of Female Heads of State in Asia

On Sunday [19.07.2015], the ruling Nationalist party publicized that Ms Hung Hsiu-chu, a 67 year-old former school teacher, would be its official presidential candidate. The Kuomintang (KMT) nomination is significant, as Hung will run against the current chairwoman of the Democratic Progressive party, Ms Tsai Ing-wen. Taiwan therefore, regardless of election outcome and partisan ideology, will take major steps towards realizing gender equality on the political stage in the forthcoming election.

Below is an article published by The Guardian:


Taiwan is poised to elect its first female leader after the two largest political parties nominated women to contest next January’s presidential election.

Hung Hsiu-chu, 67, a former teacher whose fiery style has earned her the nickname “Little Hot Pepper”, was officially selected on Sunday[19 July 2015] as the candidate for the ruling Nationalist party (KMT).

She will compete against Tsai Ing-wen, 58, the candidate nominated by the opposition Democratic Progressive party (DPP) in April.

Tsai, currently the party’s chairwoman, is a trained lawyer who studied at Cornell University and the London School of Economics before forging a career in academia and politics back home.

Speaking last month in Washington, she said: “Taiwanese people are faced with a very serious test next year – that is whether we are advanced and civilised enough to accept a woman leader.”

In the run-up to Sunday [19 July]’s nomination, Hung told reporters: “I hope this battle between two women will bring forth a whole new understanding and set an example of true democracy.”

Experts said the KMT candidate has a mountain to climb if she is to win over the self-ruled island’s 18 million voters to defeat her rival, who narrowly lost the 2012 election.

Dafydd Fell, the director of the SOAS centre of Taiwan studies, said: “Currently Tsai Ing-wen is definitely the frontrunner. She’s ahead in all the polls regardless of the media bias that you need to factor in different polling agencies.”

Hung’s KMT, which has ruled Taiwan since 2008, was routed during last November [2014]’s local elections, partly as a result of the gusto with which it has embraced warmer ties with Beijing.

In an attempt to boost Taiwan’s economy, Ma Ying-jeou, the outgoing president, has overseen an unprecedented rapprochement with China’s Communist leaders who still view the island as a renegade province that should be “reunified” with the mainland.

However, there is growing unease at that closeness among many Taiwanese, particularly in the wake of China’s hardline response to the pro-democracy umbrella movement demonstrations in Hong Kong.

In what was named the Sunflower Movement, thousands of students spent weeks occupying Taiwan’s legislature last year to protest against a trade pact with China.

Fell said: “Public opinion has become much more cautious on integration with China and its risks since 2012.” He said the “China factor” was likely to play a key role in the election outcome.

Taiwan would become the latest in a series of Asian nations to elect a female leader, following Thailand, the Philippines and South Korea.

China still has a dearth of female politicians, with not a single woman on the Communist party’s elite, seven-member ruling body, the politburo standing committee.

Under the president, Xi Jinping, who became the Communist party leader in 2012, there are fewer women at the top level of Chinese politics than during Mao Zedong’s reign.

Fell said: “I think the fact we have two female presidential candidates says something about the role of female politicians in Taiwanese politics. Generally, when it comes to parliamentary representation, Taiwan does much better than most other Asian democracies in terms of female legislators.

“The improvement in gender equality in politics has been a gradual process over the past two and a half decades since democratisation. A strong women’s movement has been one factor, as has a well-educated population, favourable institutions and gender quotas.”

Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies last month, Tsai said Taiwanese voters were increasingly looking to female politicians – even if they had yet to elect one to its highest office.

She said: “Gender used to be a barrier of some sort for a woman to overcome when they wanted to be in politics. Today in Taiwan, the situation is somewhat different.

“Of course there are some people in Taiwan who are still rather traditional and have some hesitation to consider a woman leader. But I think the young people are generally excited about the idea of having a woman to lead the country. They think it is rather trendy.”


Photo credit: Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images