The rise of Taiwan’s first female president began with her concession speech in 2012. With humility and a desire to represent everyone, she achieved an historic victory. Now, although she does not want to provoke any dangerous changes in Asia, she also does not want to hide her country’s identity vis-à-vis its giant neighbour, China.
Taipei (AsiaNews) – Tsai Ting-wen’s (蔡英文) landslide victory began paradoxically with tears, those of the bitter defeat in 2012, when she ran for the first time and lost to outgoing President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九). Indeed, her concession speech on 14 January 2012 generated a special feeling between her, her supporters in the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP, 民進黨), and many ordinary Taiwanese.
After former President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was arrested in 2008, the DPP went through an identity crisis, its members feeling betrayed by its main representative. People felt they made a mistake in trusting him. Still, many thought that there must be someone who can take up the challenge and engage in politics in an honest way on behalf of ordinary people.
Until then, Tsai Ying-wen had been seen as one of many candidates not elected destined for political oblivion. However, after her defeat in the 2012 presidential elections, she became the “special” candidate under a downpour with journalists dripping wet and her supporters weeping, young and old. That defeat had left hope in tatters, hope that those in government would listen.
Not everyone would have bet on Tsai Ying-wen’s future. Criticism was widespread, and there was especially a lot of disillusionment. Yet in a courageous appeal that lasted 20 minutes, she changed the minds of her supporters. She said that victory would come sooner or later, that they had to humbly roll up their sleeves and start again, and that she was ready to take up a new challenge to represent everyone because Taiwan belongs to its people, to all its inhabitants. She ended saying “one day we will come back;” in the meantime, “we will not give up”.
Thanks to her strong and sincere 20-minute appeal, her image changed in everyone’s mind. She came across as a leader who knew which way to go even though she had just lost. And, strangely, she felt she could do it, that she should not give up. Last Saturday’s election clearly showed that she was right.
Since yesterday, people feel represented again. After a week of rain, we had good weather on Election Day. This favoured a large turnout; then yesterday, rain began again. "Even God is with Tsai Ying-wen and her running mate Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁)," a supporter said jokingly yesterday.
Her landslide victory is deserved, achieved through the support of many young people, who became involved in party politics after the students protests led to the occupation of Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan (parliament) two years ago. In her victory speech, she stressed that the Taiwanese should not be ashamed for what they are, for where they were born, and for their history.
She insisted on working and listening to everyone’s voice, in humility, a word that pops up in her statements and speeches. I had the opportunity of interviewing her a couple of years ago, just before the sunflower student movement (太陽花 學運) emerged, and counted the number of times she used "humility" in the 40-minute interview: 14.
Now she has her work cut out. She has to deal with youth disenchantment, low wages, expensive housing, international relations and rising pollution. But she is not new to this.
As an expert in international trade law, she played a role in her country’s trade deals with other countries, and acted as key trade negotiator during the transition from the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1994 to the World Trade Organization (WTO). She has a great background in bilateral economic relations with single countries.
A veteran of international circles, she has a Ph.D. in Law from the London School of Economics, and taught law at National Chengchi University in Taipei (國立 政治 大學).
She was born into a large southern family but raised in Taipei. Interviewed last month on a television show, she was asked if she had thought of running for president when she was young.
“It never crossed my mind. In fact, after university in England, I thought of moving to Singapore. Only thanks to a phone call from Dad did I come back to Taiwan."
Because of many such small providential moments, since yesterday she has become the great hope for all those humble people whose voices were not heard by the high and mighty.