Attention turns to presidential polls after DPP thrashing

Jubilant: KMT supporters celebrating preliminary results in the Taipei mayoral election at a rally in Taipei. — Bloomberg

TAIPEI: Attention is turning to Taiwan’s next presidential election in 2024 after the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was thrashed in local elections, with President Tsai Ing-wen’s move to focus on China backfiring with voters.

The main opposition party, the Kuomintang, or KMT, romped to victory in the mayoral and county elections, winning 13 of the 21 seats up for grabs, including the capital Taipei, in line with expectations.

None of those elected have direct say in policy on China.

China views the island as its own territory and has been ramping up military activities to assert those claims, fuelling global concern especially given Taiwan’s major role as a semiconductor producer.

The KMT traditionally favours close ties with China but strongly denies being pro-Beijing. It had been on the back foot since 2020’s presidential election loss, and also suffered a blow last December after four referendums it had championed as a show of no confidence in the government failed.

Tsai resigned as DPP chairwoman after the defeat, the worst showing in the party’s history, and is now left with just five mayor or county chief positions.

She had framed the vote as being about showing defiance to China’s rising bellicosity, especially after it held war games near the island in August and President Xi Jinping, who has vowed to bring Taiwan under Chinese control, won an unprecedented third term in office last month.

But Tsai’s strategy failed to mobilise voters, who disassociated geopolitics from the local elections which traditionally focus more on issues from crime to pollution.

Turnout on Saturday was at record low, just 59% for Taiwan’s six most important cities, compared to an overall figure of around 75% in 2020.

Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said last week that Taiwan was seeing less Chinese interference ahead of the local elections, possibly due to China’s own domestic problems with Covid-19 and its efforts to improve its international image. — Reuters

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