The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has lost another two seats — by a substantial number of votes — in two southern by-elections. This result was hardly surprising. In the three years since the party regained control of the national government, it has managed to win just three of the 13 seats contested during by-elections. In contrast, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) have taken nine, and even though it fell slightly short of the KMT in the number of seats gained in last year’s special municipality elections, it won the popular vote by about 400,000 votes. So it comes as no surprise after the results of the latest southern by-election that DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) can say, with some assurance, that the DPP is on the right track to return to power.
The KMT has been hemorrhaging votes in local elections despite having a full majority on the national level. After every defeat, the reports to the party’s Central Standing Committee neither offer ideas about where the party is going wrong nor acknowledge the party’s inability to stop the rot.
The KMT sent in the heavyweights for the Greater Tainan legislative by-election, nominating Legislator-at-large Chen Shu-huei (陳淑慧), who remains a legislator despite having lost. Chen is able to be a legislator-at-large because she is married to former KMT legislator Lin Nan-sheng (林南生), who had relied on votes from local factions and veterans, but was controversial within the party itself, being on record for defying the party whip on two occasions when former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was in power.
In Greater Kaohsiung, the KMT nominated Hsu -Ching-huang (徐慶煌), son of former DPP legislator Hsu Chih-ming (徐志明), despite controversy involving his family and his substantial defeat in the previous legislative election. Once again, the son’s defeat came as no surprise.
Luck had nothing to do with the victory of DPP candidate Lin Tai-hua (林岱樺). A former legislator, she lost her seat in a surprise electoral defeat, going on to contest the position of Kaohisung County commissioner. The support base she had built up during these elections helped her in this by-election after Kaohsiung city and county merged to become Greater Kaohsiung.
In Greater Tainan, the DPP fielded former Tainan mayor Hsu Tain-tsair (許添財). A former mayor contesting a legislative by-election was a relative shoo-in. The DPP was in a far better position for these by-elections than the KMT, both in its choice of candidates and its preparedness.
Public trust in the central government would help alleviate the KMT’s problems at the local level. However, the government’s high approval ratings dropped after only a year in power. In addition, people in the south receive few of the benefits of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) and the region receives very few Chinese tourists.
Instead, southerners see job opportunities move to other areas and watch their products lose market share to products made in China. If we add rising commodity prices, stagnant or falling salaries and a government incapable of alleviating the pressures on the public and resuscitating the slowing regional economy, it is easy to understand why public disaffection is on the rise. The central government clearly bears much of the responsibility for the KMT’s losses in the south.