Supporters of William Lai Ching-te, Taiwan's vice president and governing Democratic Progressive Party presidential candidate for the 2024 Taiwanese presidential election, at a campaign rally in Tainan city, Taiwan, in January 2024.
Al Jazeera :
Elections in Taiwan highlight dissatisfaction in China with a political system that Beijing says works best for Chinese people.
If free and fair national elections are considered the hallmark of a democratic state, Taiwan has much to boast about.
In January, the self-ruled island held its eighth presidential election concurrently with a parliamentary vote.
Just 160km (100 miles) away on the other side of the narrow Taiwan Strait, the Communist Party of China (CPC) has ruled China since 1949, and though the party often claims that it governs a democratic state, there is no electoral process comparable with Taiwan’s.
China’s President Xi Jinping has referred to “whole-process people’s democracy” to describe the Chinese political system where the “people are the masters” but the party-state apparatus runs the people’s affairs on their behalf.
Ken Cai*, a 35-year-old entrepreneur from Shanghai, does not subscribe to Xi’s definition of democracy.
“The truth is that [mainland] Chinese people have never been allowed to choose their own leaders,” Ken told Al Jazeera.
“That is just propaganda.”
Ken’s critical assessment stands in sharp contrast to an assertion often presented by the CPC that their one-party rule is considered satisfactory by Chinese people.
President Xi has long said that China is following a unique development path under the guidance of its distinctive system of governance. Chinese officials have also presented criticism of Beijing’s record on human rights and democracy as being based on a lack of understanding of China and the Chinese people.
That is why Taiwan’s hosting of successful multiparty elections challenges Beijing’s argument that liberal democracy is incompatible with Chinese culture.
At the same time, Taiwan’s liberal democratic system clashes with Xi’s vision of a rejuvenated Chinese nation firmly under the CPC’s control and a wayward Taiwan eventually unified with the Chinese mainland.
“The Taiwanese experience is a clear affront to the CPC narrative,” said Chong Ja Ian, associate professor of China’s foreign policy at the National University of Singapore.
Taiwanese elections are a far more sensitive topic for Beijing than elections in other democracies as the democratic example being set by Taipei can be a more direct source of inspiration for people in mainland China, said Yaqiu Wang, research director for China, Hong Kong and Taiwan at the United States-based advocacy group Freedom House.
“When you see that people from your own in-group have democracy and can elect their leaders, it can cause particular frustration with your own non-elected leaders,” Wang said.
“That makes Taiwanese elections a threat to the CPC,” she added.