With the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) humiliated in Saturday's local elections and President Tsai Ing-wen's decision to focus on China backfiring with voters, attention is now shifting to Taiwan's 2024 presidential race.
The Kuomintang, or KMT, the largest opposition party, swept to victory in the mayoral and county elections, taking 13 of the 21 seats up for grabs, including the prosperous and affluent capital Taipei, as predicted.
The KMT's victory meant it would run a narrowly focused campaign on subjects like the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in light of the recent spike in cases and whether the government would choose a domestic vaccine over an imported one.
Voting for the KMT was successfully misconstrued as support for China in the wake of a brutal crackdown on anti-government demonstrators in Hong Kong, although the DPP did rebound from a similar trouncing in the 2018 local elections to win a landslide at the presidential and legislative elections in 2020.
Mid-Term Election of Taiwan
On November 26, Taiwan held local elections for 2022. Voters chose candidates for several races, including those for council members, mayors of the six special municipalities, 16 county/city magistrates, and heads and representatives of boroughs. These elections were known as the "mid-term" or "9-in-1" elections.
Candidates from the main opposition Nationalist Party (KMT), the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and smaller parties like the Taiwan People's Party (TPP) and the New Power Party (NPP) all ran for office.
How the Scenario is Different in the Current Election
Although the DPP lost the local elections which are traditionally regarded as the midterms in both years, the situation in 2022 is considerably different from the one in 2018.
Before the 2018 elections, incumbent President Tsai had a poor job approval rating of 20–30%, and 70% of the islands disapproved of how her administration was handling its duties. Tsai's subpar performance had a big impact on how the DPP candidates fared in the elections, and the party later took a big hit.
The situation will be substantially different in 2022 because of Tsai's popularity, which has been high during her second term and has been averaging between 50% and 55%. This is due in part to the administration's success in limiting the pandemic and maintaining economic growth.
In Taiwan's local elections, environmental and local development problems typically take centre stage. Beijing's ongoing military intimidation of Taiwan in recent years has raised public awareness of the threat, particularly in the wake of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taipei in August and Russia's invasion of Ukraine. To capitalise on the voters' anti-China attitude, several DPP candidates have tried to play the "China Card" to their advantage by adopting a position of "resisting Beijing, protecting Taiwan."
Political Implications of Electoral Outcomes
In addition to deciding the fate of the more than 11,000 candidates running for office, the election results will also determine the future direction of the major political parties, the viability of smaller parties, and the electoral landscape. All of which will have a significant political impact on the country's 2024 presidential election.
The Democratic Progressive Party came in second with five, the Taiwan People's Party came in first with one, and independent candidates took the remaining two county and city chief positions, according to the island's election affairs authority. The Chinese Kuomintang party won 13 of the 21 elected county and city chief positions.
Taiwan's president Tsai Ing-wen has resigned from her position as head of the DPP. Before this, Tsai Ing-wen handed in her resignation as DPP leader in the wake of the party's disappointing showing in the 2018 local elections. In 2018, the KMT won 13 jurisdictions, compared to the DPP's six. But in the 2020 national elections, the DPP easily won.
After the defeat—the worst result in the party's history—Tsai resigned as chairwoman of the DPP, leaving her with just five mayor or county chief seats.
Specifically, after China conducted war drills close to the island in August and President Xi Jinping, who has promised to annex Taiwan, was elected to an unprecedented third term in office last month, she had presented the vote as a way to express opposition to China's growing bellicosity.
However, Tsai's campaign failed to energise voters because they disconnected geopolitics from local elections, which customarily place more emphasis on issues like crime and pollution.
What Led Them Towards Their Loss
Though the KMT rejects any claim that it would cede Taiwan to China or that they lack a commitment to democracy, they accuse the DPP of purposefully inflaming tensions with Beijing for political gain.
The DPP disputes this, and Tsai has made numerous offers to talk to China but was turned down because Beijing sees her as a separatist.
The pro-DPP Liberty Times newspaper in Taiwan wrote in a Sunday editorial that it was more difficult to influence voters in local elections with "abstract political ideals" and that the DPP would see divisive splits when choosing its presidential candidate for 2024.
Halfway through Tsai Ing-wen's second term, the succession debate could lead to internal conflicts that weaken the military's ability to fight effectively with all guns pointed outside.
"The KMT's resounding victory does not portend the emergence of a pro-Beijing political climate in Taiwan. The KMT is also not a party that supports Beijing", said Huang Kwei-bo, a former deputy secretary general of the KMT and an associate professor of diplomacy at Taipei's National Chengchi University.
China Factor in Taiwan Election
However, this card has not yet been used. Taiwanese people are not blind to the threat Beijing poses; on the contrary, their resentment of Beijing is at an all-time high as a result of Beijing's military drills. Simply put, local political scandals had a much greater impact on the electoral races. The comments on China were overshadowed by political rumours about scandals, and unfortunately for the DPP, many of these scandals involved DPP candidates.
Due in large part to Taiwan's significant role as a semiconductor producer, China has been stepping up military activities to support its claims that the island is its own territory.
DPP Secretary-General Lin Hsi-Yao declined to directly address their strategy of making the China issue such a significant one, instead telling reporters that the party will conduct a "review" of what went wrong.
Winning Party KMT
Although the KMT has historically supported close connections with China, it vehemently rejects being pro-Beijing. It had been in trouble ever since losing the 2020 presidential race, and it took a setback in December when four referendums it had supported as a vote of no confidence in the government fell short.
The KMT understood that winning required unity, according to party chairman Eric Chu, who was speaking to reporters late on Saturday at the party's headquarters.
He stated, "The people of Taiwan have given us a chance. The KMT's only chance of winning the 2024 election is through selflessness."
For the party and the people of Taiwan, it's crucial to watch how the 2024 election turns out.
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