GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 683, 6 December 2022

Taiwan: Local elections present unanticipated outcomes
Avishka Ashok

What happened?
On 27 November, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson referred to the local elections in Taiwan and remarked that the island desires peace, stability and a better life after the Kuomintang Party (KMT) made a comeback in the national politics.
Chiang Kai-shek’s great-grandson Chiang Wan-an won the elections to become the youngest mayor of Taipei at the age of 43. As a result of the loss of two more cities and counties, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen resigned as the party head of the Democratic Progressive Party.

What is the background?
First, a recap of the election. The results of the local election hints at a growing unease amongst the Taiwanese people with regards to the DPP’s handling of the local issues such as the domestic political environment, economy, and the vaccine policy. The local elections is also closely connected to the Presidential election, scheduled for January 2024. Compared to the 2018 elections, the DPP has lost control over a majority of the cities and now only holds a majority in five out of 21 cities and counties. The KMT on the other hand has successfully gained control over 13 cities and counties and four out of six of Taiwan’s municipalities where 70 per cent of the population resides. 
Second, the KMT versus the DPP. Taiwan is a multiparty democratic system. But the KMT and the DPP are two of the most popular parties and have dominated the political landscape of the country ever since the founder Chiang Kai-shek relocated the KMT to Taiwan. While Chiang is attributed with being the KMT’s Director-General and leading the party’s fight during the Chinese civil war between 1927 and 1949, he is also blamed for his authoritarian rule and atrocities committed by the party under his command. The party has since evolved from being a authoritative, nationalist, anti-China party to being more moderate approach to dealing with the Chinese aggression in the Taiwan Straits. The DPP, on the other hand, is credited for bringing democratic reforms to the country when it first gained power in 1989. It passed the Civic Organization Law which enabled the formation of new political parties in the countries. The DPP is also known to have a stronger anti-China policy.
Third, Chiang Wan-an and his popularity. Chiang Wan-an was previously a lawyer in the US who was nominated as a candidate for Taipei’s Mayoral elections in May 2022. For the Kuomintang, the lack of support from the youth has been an issue. However, Chiang now represents the three per cent of youth in the Kuomintang Party and brings a youthful image to the party which had been losing its relevance in the popularity of the Democratic Progressive Party.

What does it mean?
First, even though the KMT has achieved a major win through the local elections, it does not guarantee a friendlier approach to dealing with China. The KMT will attempt to bridge the economic gaps with China, but it does not believe in reunification according to the Chinese ideals. The KMT is yet to come up with a plan on how it aims to maintain warmer ties with China while also sustaining its independence as the democratic China.
Second, the growing popularity of the KMT in Taiwan may signify an end to Tsai Ing-wen’s DPP. Unless the party regains the trust of the people by rectifying its errors, the Presidential race may not end up in the DPP’s favour. As President Tsai finishes her second term and resigns as the Party head, she does not hold any influence in choosing the upcoming President of Taiwan. The recent election loss will also lead to inter-party frictions between Tsai and other senior leaders in the DPP such as the Vice-President William Lai. Lai is considered to be at the forefront of the Presidential election, representing the DPP. However, as Tsai does not favour Lai, she may push for former vice-President Chen Chien-jen or Taoyuan’s Mayor Cheng Wen-tsan. For the KMT, the Party Chair Eric Chu is credited with the successful win of the local elections and thus, stands a chance to be nominated as the Presidential candidate. However, the New Taipei Mayor Hou Yu-ih is also credited with winning the local elections with 4,50,000 more votes than the DPP candidate; which may win him the nomination.

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