By Collins Chong Yew Keat
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Taiwan’s presidential election on 13 January remains a pivotal crossroads for both the Taiwanese people and regional fate of peace and democracy. 
This election is dominated by the prospect of war, where each contender has argued that they alone can mitigate and prevent, and accusing the others of risking Taiwan’s security prospects by their policies on China and the US. 
All three candidates have acknowledged the potential conflict risks for Taiwan and publicly voiced support for raising the defense budget, but to see that through with conviction and without the eventual ire and pressure from Beijing will be the key.   
Tsai's government has been fending off not only Chinese military incursions and sabre rattling tactics, but also heavy-handed election meddling and disinformation.
China has often been proposing to Taiwan that if the island accepts the 1992 consensus, tensions will reduce. The KMT seems to be aligned to this approach. 
However, any significant shift in Taiwan’s approach with China with the potential of an upset win by KMT will set back Taiwan’s leverage with China for at least a decade, and it will give Beijing the ultimate prize of Taiwan reunification against the will of the Taiwanese people. 
A KMT rule will hasten the security dilemma facing Taiwan, at a time when many have been wary of Washington’s readiness and intent of defending Taiwan now worsened by the stretch of a two-pronged conflict in Europe and Middle East and a resurgent Pyongyang. 
The Afghanistan withdrawal has cast further doubt on Washington’s support for allies, with wariness on the readiness to fully commit to a deterrence effort for Taiwan especially with the prospect of a changing presidency in the US after 2024. 
Some have accused Washington of "weaponising" Taiwan in its quest to contain Beijing's expansionism and  are wary of Washington’s seriousness in defending the island. 
Others have foreseen the inevitable fact that even if the battle is won against a Chinese forceful invasion, it would be a pyrrhic victory and Taiwan would remain as scorched earth.
This however, depends on the efficacy and limits of Taiwan’s playbook and leverage. Its porcupine strategy, the unsinkable aircraft carrier tag, regional neighbour extended deterrence with Seoul and Tokyo, the prospect of a nuclear armed Taiwan and a total Washington deterrence will negate and prevent such risks. 
For Taiwan’s future and for democracy and freedom to thrive, the DPP must win. If KMT secures an upset win, deterrence of Taiwan will dwindle, which will create ripple effects on other defensive and preventive mechanisms.  Aukus and Quad’s overall efficacy ill dwindle, and China will use it as a moral win.This will set back Taiwan’s real resilience of democracy for .
If KMT wins, the prospect of a nuclearised Taiwan or the enhancement of its submarine project will effectively cease.
Any potential benefits in terms of closer economic and cultural ties under KMT will be offset by the critical status of Taiwan’s real bulwark of democracy and freedom and the importance of its  semiconductor and high technology domain.
Potential softening of Taiwan’s stance and a renewed approach by KMT will invite opportunities for Beijing to pounce on this.As Xi faces the trap of time in its legacy building and that Taiwan reunification remains the ultimate aim, Taiwan’s internal demographic reality further entraps Beijing’s options and Xi’s dwindling options. 
A victory for KMT, especially when adding the prospect of a Biden loss in the elections later this year, might mean a more dangerous setting for Taipei in which deterrent capacity and pledges will dwindle, especially when Taiwan has been under growing pressure to increase its self defence capacity and GDP spending percentage for its defence. 
The DPP will need to project a new dimension to tackle the new efforts by Beijing to exert influence and change the course in domestic politics. Having learned its lesson in the 2022 local elections, it can  no longer play the democracy, security and Taiwan identity card at the expense of a credible long term economic resilience plan away from China centric economic dependence.
The KMT has been promising both a secure economic and political future for Taiwan, and lacking a deeper narrative to project a two-pronged assurance in the economic and security future of Taiwan that is not at the expense of one or the other, the DPP might face a resurgent KMT and a potential upset win. 
Youth nationalist sentiments and the unwavering stance for a future that is free from Beijing dictate remain robust, but are fast succumbing to Beijing’s persistent and sustained strategic efforts to break this hardline link. New narratives and tailor made approaches have been targeted on Gen Z and Gen Alpha, seen as the new segments that can be moulded to break the link with the DPP. 
As much as the DPP is projected to win in a close election, Beijing still has the upper hand in using this victory as a pretext to increase aggression and use that as a justification that peaceful reunification is a lost cause, further portraying the DPP as the cause of increasing tensions. 
Peace is won through strength, and Trump’s peace through strength approach has produced relatively stable global relations in his four years with a direct showcase of power and strength, and strategic combination of tailor made policy moulding. Any efforts to appease or to project from a position of compromise and submission will weaken the foundation of one’s resolve in protecting long term sovereignty and independence. 
Taipei’s harbinger of democracy is as much critical and impactful as the fight for freedom in Ukraine, and aftermath of the outcome reverberates far and wide from Jakarta to Buenos Aires. For this reason alone, democracy cannot be left to die in darkness.
*Collins Chong Yew Keat is a Foreign Affairs and Security Strategist with Universiti Malaya.*