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Long queues as Taiwanese voting in mayoral and magisterial elections, A multi-question referendum alongside local elections, in an elementary school (Image from Belle's / Shutterstock)

Taiwan’s pro-independence ruling party suffers massive losses in local elections

Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) suffered huge losses in the local elections last weekend, losing 7 of 13 cities that it won in 2014 including two strongholds Kaohsiung and Taichung, both which well to the opposition, Kuomintang (KMT).

Kaohsiung was a particularly sharp loss as the city has been a power base for pro-independence DPP for over two decades.

This electoral setback is similar to the one suffered by KMT four years ago when they public handed them a vote of no confidence and passed the reigns over to DPP instead. According to reports by the South China Morning Post (SCMP), this is a result of a turnaround in political influence.

Analysts posited that one of the reasons that the DPP lost so badly in these local elections was that the DPP chair and President of Taiwan Tsai Ing-wen has been facing increasing pressure from Beijing and a backlash from the Taiwanese people over the sorry state of the economy. This is coupled with traditional media outlets taking a pro-China stance against DPP's diplomatic policies.

Following this harrowing lost for the DPP, Tsai announced her resignation as chairwoman of the party at a press conference. She said, “We have learned a lesson and must reflect on ourselves as, obviously, voters have a higher expectation of us.”

According to Sun Da-chien, a former KMT legislator, KMT’s victory has little to do with the party itself. He said, “The KMT should not entertain the thought that it is the actual winner of the election. Rather it won because voters were disappointed with the DPP and Tsai’s performance.” He noted that back in 2014, KMT similarly suffered its worse loss because the voters were dissatisfied with then president, Ma Ying-jeou’s administration which they felt was getting too close to China and failed to show economic performance.

KMT’s loss in 2014 of eight of its 14 municipalities and counties set the stage back then for the DPP’s sweeping victory in the 2016 elections which displaced KMT.

This time around, analysts believe that similar voter motivation drove this nine-in-one local election as well. A political science professor at Chinese Culture University in Taiper, Wang Kung-yi told SCMO that the election results clearly indicated the Taiwanese people’s dissatisfaction with Tsai’s performance.

Among the issues that really stirred up voters was the China-relations which many are concerned have deteriorated since the DPP came into power. Tsai had initially agreed to not change the status quo of cross-strait relations but then failed to reaffirm the 1992 Consensus between Beijing and Taipei that there is only one China. In hindsight, this is not surprising considering the DPP’s strong pro-independence platform. But going back on her word has had a strong impact on voter confidence.

As a result of Tsai’s actions, Beijing cut off formal communications with Taiwan and vastly reduced the number of Chinese tourists visiting Taiwan which was seriously affected the island’s travel industry. Beijing has also increased its military presence over Taiwan’s airspace which have made the Taiwanese people uneasy about their security. All strong reasons for the voters losing their trust in the DPP.

On the other hand, Taiwan’s pro-independence base also feels that Tsai’s failing to outright call for independence from China is not radical enough. So it seems her middle-ground approach has provoked both sides of the spectrum.

Another reason for DPP’s terrible loss is pegged on Taiwan’s flailing economy and the DPP’s failure to fulfil their election promises. The pension and labour reforms introduced by Tsai has been unpopular because Taiwan’s GDP has been growing but voters have said that their salaries have remained stagnant while living costs rises.

Another controversial and divisive point on the ballot was the LGBT issues. Upon the DPP coming into power, Taiwan became the first Asian nation to legalise same-sex marriage in May of 2017. The court had set a two year deadline for legalisation but Tsai’s administration has made little progress despite campaigning on the promise of marriage equality in the run up to the 2016 elections.

According to the SCMP, as of late Saturday night, it seems over 5 million voters were for restricting the definition of marriage to be between a man and a woman and didn’t want the topic of homosexuality to be thought in schools.

So it seems that the possibility of Taiwan meeting the court’s stipulated legalisation deadline on same-sex marriage is only getting slimmer.

The nine-in-one elections ballot also included 10 referendum questions:

(Image from South China Morning Post)