Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen has won a hotly-contested ruling party primary, setting up a likely campaign for re-election in January.
The pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) announced the results of the primary on Thursday and Tsai’s nomination is almost certain to be ratified by the party next week. The presidential election is expected to take place in January next year.
The self-governing island split from China about 70 years ago at the end of the civil war and after years of authoritarian rule, it is now a thriving democracy.
Tsai has been increasingly assertive in her dealings with China, which sees Taiwan as a renegade province and has not ruled out using force to take it back.
“We have come up with the strongest candidate for the Taiwanese people,” Cho Jung-tai, the DPP’s chairman, told reporters, urging the party to unite after a months-long race for the nomination that was marked by heated exchanges between Tsai’s administration and former premier and rival William Lai.
The government suffered a defeat in local elections late last year amid mounting criticism over the party’s reform agenda and rising pressure from China, which prompted Lai’s resignation.
China has been ramping up military and diplomatic pressure to assert its sovereignty over the island, conducting drills near Taiwan and picking off its last few diplomatic allies.
The government in Taipei has denounced China’s actions as intimidation while Tsai has become more assertive in her dealings with the mainland.
On Wednesday, as the police used force to clear the city’s streets of protesters, Tsai tweeted that she was “utterly saddened” to see the Hong Kong police using rubber-coated bullets.
“To the people of Hong Kong: you may feel your demands for freedom seem to fall on deaf ears, please know that all like-minded friends in Taiwan and around the world are standing with you,” she wrote.
Hong Kong’s administration has said the law needs to be changed to close “legal loopholes” citing the case of a Hong Kong national wanted for murder in Taiwan.
The race for Taiwan’s presidency grabbed headlines in April when Terry Gou, the billionaire chairman of Apple supplier Foxconn and the territory’s richest man, announced he would seek the nomination for the China-friendly opposition Kuomintang (KMT). The party will choose its candidate in July.