This piece is the first in a series on Taiwan’s 2016 elections. It was compiled by Ko Ching-chi who is sponsored by the Vincent Siew International Exchange Program. Carnegie’s work on Taiwan also benefits from the generous support of TECRO.

Taiwan will hold its sixth direct presidential election on January 16 next year. The 2016 election is unique in several respects, including that Taiwan’s two major political parties have unprecedentedly nominated women as presidential candidates, making it look likely that Taiwan could have its first female president soon.

Who are the candidates?

  • Tsai Ing-wen, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)
  • Hung Hsiu-chu, Kuomintang Party (KMT)
  • Soong Chu-yu, People First Party (PFP)

Tsai Ing-wen, chairperson for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), is running her second time for president after losing to current leader Ma Ying-jeou in 2012. Tsai was a lawyer and university professor who was educated at Cornell University and the London School of Economics before entering public service. In the 1990s, she was a negotiator for Taiwan’s accession to the World Trade Organization. She was then asked to serve on the National Security Council as an advisor to former President Lee Teng-hui. Tsai served as minister of the Mainland Affairs Council from 2000 to 2004 and as vice premier from 2006 to 2007.

Hung Hsiu-chu, a former teacher and the current deputy legislative speaker, will take on the presidential race after getting the nod from Taiwan’s ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party for the nomination. Hung grew up in poverty and suffered numerous hardships throughout her childhood because her father was a political prisoner for alleged Communist connections during Taiwan’s “White Terror” era. Hung started her political career working in the women’s division of the KMT’s Taiwan Provincial Branch in 1980. Afterward, she ran her first legislative campaign in 1989 and has kept her seat in Taiwan’s legislature for eight consecutive terms.

It is interesting to note that Tsai and Hung are both atypical candidates from their parties. Tsai is the wealthiest candidate in the history of DPP; Hung called herself the “poorest” presidential candidate in the KMT’s history. Tsai is perceived to be less emotional and has a milder stance than traditional DPP politicians; Hung’s fiery style and bold speeches on government bills have earned her the nickname “Little Hot Pepper.” Additionally, Tsai and Hung both lack the credentials of provincial leadership since neither has ever led a local administration.

Soong Chu-yu, better known as James Soong, chairperson of Taiwan’s minority People First Party (PFP), announced on August 6 that he would run in the presidential election, taking on the two female candidates. James Soong is a veteran of Taiwanese politics. He began his political career as an English interpreter for then premier Chiang Ching-kuo in 1974 after getting advanced degrees in the United States at the University of California, Berkeley and Georgetown University. He then served as a government spokesman in the early 1980s, and in the 1990s he was governor of Taiwan province. In the 2000 presidential election, James Soong left the KMT to run as an independent. He split the KMT vote, winning 4.6 million votes out of the 12 million cast. However, the opposition DPP’s candidate Chen Shui-bien narrowly won the election by 4.9 million votes or 39.3 percent of the total vote. Therefore, many political observers say Soong may inevitably split Taiwan’s ruling Pan-Blue Coalition vote with Hung in the 2016 election.

What is expected?

The following data show the latest polls have Tsai Ing-wen holding a commanding lead over the other candidates in most surveys. The average of polls, which reflect uneven findings, showed approximately 38 percent of respondents supporting Tsai Ing-wen, 18 percent supporting Hung Hsiu-chu, and 20 percent supporting James Soong.

Figure 1: 2016 Presidential Election

Date (in 2015) Tsai Ing-wen Hung Hsiu-chu James Soong
UDN1 August 6 36.00% 17.00% 24.00%
Next TV2 August 6 35.30% 14.90% 22.20%
TREND3 August 7 38.50% 16.10% 21.60%
CSPA August 9 42.90% 16.8% 23.30%
TVBS4 August 11 38.00% 17.00% 20.00%
TCF5 August 11 36.00% 26.90% 15.50%
TISR6 August 12 37.10% 13.90% 20.50%
KMT7 August 17 37.00% 18.00% 19.00%
TISR8 August 28 37.30% 12.70% 19.10%
TVBS9 August 31 40.00% 23.00% 16.00%
Average   37.81% 17.63% 20.12%

What are the major issues? Where do the candidates stand?

Recent events in Taiwan, including the Sunflower Movement Student Protest in 2014, the 2014 municipal elections, and the recent High School Edition Protest over how to teach history indicate a shifting political landscape and the prevalence identity issues in Taiwan. As with other democratic elections, domestic social and economic concerns are major issues, but cross-Strait relations indeed will be in the limelight of the campaign.

After losing the 2012 election during the final mile over cross-Strait relations, Tsai is campaigning on a new platform. Tsai Ing-wen has proposed five reforms: generation justice, improving government efficiency, legislative reform, transitional justice, and an end to partisan bickering. In terms of cross-Strait relations, she expressed her support for maintaining the status quo and seeking stability in cross-Strait relations. Moreover, she pledged to comply with the constitutional framework of the Republic of China. These two pledges have been perceived in Washington as more tempered compared to her views on the Taiwan Consensus during the 2012 presidential election. However, incumbent President Ma, Hung and others have voiced criticism that it remains highly questionable whether Tsai would be able to maintain the status quo in relations with the mainland.

Hung Hsiu-chu took a strong stand on anti-Taiwan independence, and anti-populism during her KMT speech. She is opposed to abolishing nuclear energy, whereas Tsai is aiming to turn Taiwan into a “nuclear-free homeland” by 2050. Hung had initially advocated the “one China, same interpretation” and “cross-Strait Peace Agreement” policies, but was resisted by senior party members. She has now returned to the KMT’s official framework for defining cross-Strait ties laid out in the 1992 consensus.

James Soong has vowed to facilitate communication among different political parties, ethnic groups, and social classes. He also promised to establish a coalition government to put an end to one-party rule, and highlighted his determination to resolve the economic issues facing the nation in his campaign statement. On August 21 for the first time Soong apologized for the suppressions of press freedom and freedom of expression while he served under the KMT during Taiwan’s martial law era. With regard to his cross-Strait policy, Soong said his objective is to maintain the status quo, and he promised to ensure public participation, transparency, open scrutiny, and legislative supervision in cross-Strait policies.

Appendix A: Taiwan Presidential Election 1996-2012 Vote Share


1996 2000 2004 2008 2012


Lee Teng-hui/Lien Zhan Lien Zhan/Xiao Wan-chang Lien Zhan/James Soong Ma Ying-jeou/Xiao Wan-chang Ma Ying-jeou/Wu Den-yih
(54.0%) (23.1%) (49.9%) (58.5%) (51.6%)


Peng Ming-min/Hsieh Chang-ting Chen Shui-bian/ Lu Hsiu-lien Chen Shui-bian/ Lu Hsiu-lien Hsieh Chang-ting/Su Tseng-chang Tsai Ing-wen/Su Chia-chyuan
(21.1%) (39.3%) (50.1%) (41.6%) (45.6%)


NA NA NA NA James Soong/Lin Ruey-shiung

New Party

NA Lee Ao/Fung Hu-hsiang NA NA NA

No Party Affiliation

Lin Yang-gang/Hau Pei-tsun James Soong/Chang Chau-Hsiung NA NA NA
(14.9%) (36.8%)      

No Party Affiliation

Chen Li-an/Wang Ching Hsu Hsin-liang/Chu Hui-liang NA NA NA
(10.0%) (0.6%)      

Source: Central Election Commission,, last modified April 23, 2015