It appears likely Taiwan will elect their first female president on Saturday, as the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) Tsai Ing-wen holds a double-digit lead over rival Eric Chu of the ruling Nationalists. Originally the election had been an all-woman race, with Tsai facing off against Nationalist legislator Hung Hsiu-Chu, but Hung was replaced after her abrasive style was seen as alienating voters. Tsai is not the first Asian woman to be elected head of state, but she is the first to not have been the wife, daughter, or sibling of a powerful man.
Despite a patriarchal society, women played a prominent role in Taiwan’s transition from authoritarianism to a thriving democracy. Annette Lu was among the student activists arrested in 1979, a high-profile incident that would eventually lead to the founding of the DPP. Lu would go on to become a legislator and serve two terms as vice president. About one third of the 133 lawmakers elected to the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan’s parliament, in the last polls in 2012 were women. Taiwan has a constitutional amendment and party quotas in place that set aside seats for women in parliament, but women are currently exceeding those quotas. By comparison, women make up about 20 percent of the U.S. congress, and no women sit on China’s Politburo Standing Committee, the apex of communist power.
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