Taiwan President Resigns After Opposition Wins Local Elections
Two conflicting reports from Western media:
Reuters (“Taiwan opposition wins big in local vote as president’s China threat bet fails“):
Taiwan’s main opposition party the Kuomintang (KMT) stomped home to victory in local elections on Saturday as President Tsai Ing-wen’s efforts to frame the vote as being about showing defiance to China’s rising bellicosity failed to pay off.
The elections for mayors, county chiefs and local councillors are ostensibly about domestic issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic and crime, and those elected will not have a direct say on China policy.
But Tsai, who leads the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), had recast the election as being more than a local vote, saying the world is watching how Taiwan defends its democracy amid military tensions with China, which claims the island as its territory.
The KMT was taking the lead or claimed victory in 13 of the 21 city mayor and county chief seats up for grabs, including the capital Taipei, compared to the DPP’s five, broadly in line with expectations and similar to the results of the last local elections in 2018.
Both the DPP and KMT, which traditionally favours close ties with China though strongly denies being pro-Beijing, had concentrated their campaign efforts in wealthy and populous northern Taiwan, especially Taipei, whose mayor from the small Taiwan People’s Party could not run again due to term limits.
“I have let everyone down,” the DPP’s Taipei mayor candidate Chen Shih-chung told supporters, adding he has offered his “sincere” congratulations to the KMT’s Wayne Chiang in a telephone call, and urged people to continue to support Tsai.
“I know this election’s results have greatly disappointed everyone, but we can’t despair. In the past, the DPP has lost Taipei’s elections many times, but we’ve never been defeated. We must wipe our tears and stand up again.”
China carried out war games near Taiwan in August to express anger at a visit to Taipei by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and its military activities have continued, though on a reduced scale.
The election took place a month after the 20th congress of China’s Communist Party, where President Xi Jinping secured an unprecedented third term in office – a point Tsai repeatedly made on the campaign trail.
The KMT has accused Tsai and the DPP of being overly confrontational with China, and focused its campaign on criticising the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially after a surge in cases this year.
Focus will now turn to the 2024 presidential and parliament election, which Tsai and DPP won by a landslide in 2020 on a pledge to stand up to China and defend Taiwan’s freedoms.
Tsai’s second term in office runs out in 2024 and she cannot stand again as president because of term limits.
AP (“Taiwan president resigns as party leader after election loss“):
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen resigned as head of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party following local election losses on Saturday suffered by her party.
Voters in Taiwan overwhelmingly chose the opposition Nationalist party in several major races across the self-ruled island in an election in which lingering concerns about threats from China took a backseat to more local issues.
Tsai had spoken out many times about “opposing China and defending Taiwan” in the course of campaigning for her party. But the party’s candidate Chen Shih-chung, who lost his battle for mayor of Taipei, only raised the issue of the Communist Party’s threat a few times before he quickly switched back to local issues as there was little interest, experts said.
Tsai offered her resignation on Saturday evening, a tradition after a major loss, in a short speech in which she also thanked supporters.
“I must shoulder all the responsibility,” she said. “Faced with a result like this, there are many areas that we must deeply review.”
While international observers and the ruling party have attempted to link the elections to the long-term existential threat that is Taiwan’s neighbor, many local experts do not think China — which claims the island as its territory to be annexed by force if necessary — has a large role to play this time around.
“The international community has raised the stakes too high. They’ve raised a local election to this international level, and Taiwan’s survival,” said Yeh-lih Wang, a political science professor at National Taiwan University.
During campaigning, there were few mentions of the large-scale military exercises targeting Taiwan that China held in August in reaction to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit.
“So I think if you can’t even raise this issue in Taipei,” Wang said. “You don’t even need to consider it in cities in the south.”
Campaigns had resolutely focused on the local: air pollution in the central city of Taichung, traffic snarls in Taipei’s tech hub Nangang, and the island’s COVID-19 vaccine purchasing strategies, which had left the island in short supply during an outbreak last year.
The defeat for the ruling DPP may be partly due to how it handled the pandemic.
“The public has some dissatisfaction with the DPP on this, even though Taiwan has done well relatively speaking in pandemic prevention,” said Weihao Huang, a political science professor at National Sun Yat-sen University.
It’s hard to know what to make of the conflict. The relationship with China is always a top consideration in Taiwan’s politics and the stakes seem higher than they have in years. That said, these were ostensibly local elections, not national ones.
The resignation and abject apologies of the President for her party’s losses is a stark contrast to most Western systems, certainly our own. There is something refreshing about the sense of accountability.
UPDATE: To clarify, Tsai remains President of ROC, she’s just not party head.