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26 Nov, 2022 23:24

Taiwan’s ruling party suffers election defeat

President Tsai Ing-wen framed the local races as a referendum on her battle for the island’s “freedom and democracy”
Taiwan’s ruling party suffers election defeat

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has stepped down as the head of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) after a series of election defeats to opposition candidates, who focused their campaigns on local issues and maintaining peace without being overly confrontational with Beijing.

On Saturday, people went to the polls to vote for mayors in nine cities, as well as city council members and other local leaders across the island. In a major defeat to the ruling party, the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) won key mayoral races in Taipei, Taoyuan, and Keelung, in addition to a string of other victories, leaving the DPP in control of only five out of the 21 local government offices, according to preliminary results.

“The results failed our expectations. We humbly accept the results and accept the Taiwanese people's decision,” Tsai told reporters at party headquarters on Saturday evening, announcing her resignation as the DPP head, which she also did after a similarly poor showing in 2018.

Beijing welcomed the results as proof that the people of Taiwan overwhelmingly support peace, stability, and “a good life,” with China’s Taiwan Affairs Office promising to continue its work to promote peaceful relations and to oppose foreign interference and calls for independence.

Despite the largely symbolic resignation, Tsai is set to remain the island’s leader until the end of her second term in 2024. She won by a landslide in 2020 on promises to stand up to Beijing, but will not be able to run again due to term limits.

Ahead of Saturday’s vote, Tsai repeatedly described the local elections as yet another “chance to show the international community Taiwan's persistence and resolve to defend freedom and democracy,” and urged undecided voters to “please cast this vote for me, for candidates I am recommending.”

The opposition KMT also expressed its commitment to protecting the island’s freedom and democracy, but without being as confrontational with Beijing as the DPP.

While Tsai had repeatedly raised the issue of “opposing China and defending Taiwan” during the campaign, the opposition as well as her own party’s candidates focused instead on local problems such as air pollution, traffic issues, and the island’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Taiwan has governed itself since nationalist forces led by Chiang Kai-shek fled to the island in 1949, after they lost a civil war to the Communists. Beijing’s position is that Taiwan is an integral part of China – the One-China policy – and that China “will inevitably be reunified.”

The 20th National Congress of the Communist Party last month enshrined opposition to Taiwanese separatism into the party’s constitution, after re-electing President Xi Jinping for a third term. Xi said that while Beijing seeks “peaceful reunification” with the island, he could not “promise to give up the use of force” and reserves the option “to take all necessary measures.”