Taiwan 'Sunflower' activists turn lawmakers in vote victory


Taipei (AFP)

Beijing not only has to contend with a new president in Taiwan who is wary of relations with China, but also a fresh batch of activists-turned-lawmakers from the island's boisterous Sunflower Movement.

Protesters from the student-led movement that dramatically occupied the island's parliament in 2014 over a trade pact with Beijing took their first step into mainstream politics after winning seats in parliamentary elections Saturday.

The activists' success came on the night Taiwan voted in its first female president, Tsai Ing-wen of the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which has traditionally campaigned for the island's independence.

Both Tsai and the protesters' victory is symbolic of growing public resistance to Beijing after a rapprochement under outgoing president Ma Ying-jeou of the China-friendly Kuomintang which has sparked fears Taiwan's sovereignty is being eroded.

"It's our first election battle and we have a long way ahead of us," said Huang Kuo-chang, an academic and leader of the Sunflower Movement who became a lawmaker Saturday.

His New Power Party grew out of the protests and won five seats in parliament -- making it the third-largest in the legislature.

"The NPP will not forget the principles of the Sunflower Movement. We will never compromise," Huang, 42, said.

Rock star Freddy Lim, 39, was also among the successful NPP candidates, unseating a veteran KMT lawmaker in Taipei.

The tattooed death metal singer grabbed headlines with his screaming, headbanging campaign concerts ahead of the vote.

"I'm the first rocker in Asia to go to parliament," said Lim after the victory.

"This election shows anyone has the right to go into parliament to promote a better Taiwan."

Taiwan is a self-ruling democracy since splitting with China in 1949 after a civil war on the mainland, but has never formally declared independence.

But Beijing still sees it as part of its territory awaiting unification, by force if necessary.

Resentment towards the KMT over its China policy and Taiwan's economic woes saw it haemorrhage seats Saturday.

The DPP gained a majority for the first time, surging from 40 to 68 seats out of a total 113.

The KMT went from 64 to 35.

Among the beleaguered party's successful candidates was Chiang Wan-wan, great grandson of former KMT leader Chiang Kai-shek, who set up government in Taiwan after defeat by Mao Zedong's Communist troops.

Chiang, 37, campaigned on a broad domestic platform promoting everything from care for the elderly to business start-ups.

For Huang, victory is a chance to stand up for Taiwan.

"I call on China that if it wants to push forward ties with Taiwan ... they have to respect Taiwanese people who want to maintain their way of life, and respect Taiwan people's right to decide their future," he said.