KMT trounced

BALLOT BLOWOUT::Voters dealt the ruling party a debilitating blow yesterday when they revoked its mandate in several key strongholds and gave it to the DPP instead, in what was seen as a referendum on Ma Ying-jeou’s presidency

By Loa Iok-sin and Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  Staff reporters, with staff writers

Sun, Nov 30, 2014 - Page 1

The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) suffered a serious setback and humiliation in yesterday’s nine-in-one elections, which saw opposition candidates seize control of significant KMT strongholds, including Taipei, Taoyuan and Greater Taichung, as well as its only southern bastion: Chiayi City.

Before yesterday’s vote, the KMT controlled 15 of the nation’s 22 cities and counties, while the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) held six. The ruling party had three of the five special municipalities — Taipei and New Taipei City in the north, and Greater Taichung in the center — while also governing Taoyuan County, which is to be upgraded to a special municipality on Dec. 25. By contrast, the DPP controlled Greater Tainan and Greater Kaohsiung in the south.

Yesterday’s vote — seen as a barometer for presidential elections in early 2016 — left the KMT with control over a mere six city, county and municipal governments.

A record 11,130 seats at every level of local government were up for grabs, with 18.5 million people eligible to vote in the polls, which saw voters lining up at polling stations nationwide from early morning, jamming roads, trains and buses as they returned to their local neighborboods to cast their ballots.

In Taipei, a crowd of supporters began to gather outside independent Taipei mayoral candidate Ko Wen-je’s (柯文哲) campaign headquarters as the vote counting began at 4pm.

When the count started, waves of cheers and applause arose from the crowd as the numbers were displayed on a large screen onstage, getting progressively louder as the gap between Ko and his main rival, KMT candidate Sean Lien (連勝文), expanded.

With tears of joy and big smiles on their faces, more than 30,000 supporters waved flags as they gave Ko a hero’s reception when he appeared onstage with his family after his landslide win was confirmed.

On the stage, Ko’s parents bowed repeatedly to the audience, as Ko and his wife smiled and waved at the crowd, who chanted: “Hello, Mayor Ko.”

Ko launched his acceptance speech by saying thanks to his supporters, campaign team and family: “Thank you, the great people of Taipei, for your strong will and belief that regaining conscience is the foundation of politics, for your belief in open government and transparency, for your belief in the wisdom of the public over the wisdom of an individual.”

“Because of the power of your belief in democracy based on the citizenry and your belief in moving in a more positive, progressive direction, we can finally make change in Taipei come true,” he added.

The victorious candidate then expressed his appreciation for those who did not vote for him and for his rivals — including Lien — saying: “Because of your criticism, I have discovered my shortcomings and can now seek to improve them.”

Ko singled out fellow independent candidate Neil Peng (馮光遠) for “not only setting an example by his conduct as a candidate, but also proposing many pragmatic policies,” while promising to adopt suitable policies from other candidates.

Ko promised to strive to realize his campaign promises and invited everyone to keep watch over whether he is keeping his word.

“I come from an ordinary background; I will listen to ordinary people,” Ko said. “When I take over the mayorship, you will come with me and we will take charge together, for the driving force for change in Taipei comes from its citizens, netizens and public.”

For the first time since 1998, the KMT has lost Taipei, after Lien garnered 609,932 votes, or 40.82 percent of the ballots, versus Ko’s 853,983 votes (57.16 percent).

“We want to send the KMT a warning,” said Lin Wen-chih, a 48-year-old film producer who voted for Ko. “Taiwan is an independent country. We don’t want the Nationalists to take measures that would have it eaten up [by China].”

Morale among the few hundred supporters gathered outside Lien’s camp was down since just after the counting began at 4pm, with Lien trailing Ko all the way through.

At about 6:40pm, Lien, the son of former vice president Lien Chan (連戰), emerged at his campaign office flanked by his wife, Patty Tsai (蔡依珊), and his campaign staff to give thanks to his supporters.

The crowd applauded as he made his way to the podium, where he conceded defeat and congratulated Ko after half of the results showed that Sean Lien lost by a landslide.

Sean Lien bowed to the audience six times, before saying: “I am really sorry for failing to meet your expectations. I take responsibility for the defeat. It’s because I didn’t work hard enough to win and I apologize.”

The beaten candidate encouraged his supporters to keep fighting for the ideals and values they fought for together over the past year of campaigning, adding that he would never abandon the original motives that drove him to run for office to serve the nation and society.

“Although we lost the battle, we did not lose the war. There are more formidable challenges ahead of us. We have to continue to seek support for the values and ideals we believe in. We will meet again another day,” Sean Lien said.

He did not elaborate on his future plans, but his supporters erupted in applause as he spoke, shouting: “Sean Lien, run for president.”

Throughout the race, Ko has enjoyed a comfortable lead against his KMT rival in the polls.

With Lien Chan a key figure in the development of cross-strait ties, Sean Lien’s political pedigree and the wealth of his family hurt him in the election at a time when President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) pro-China policy has left many worried about China’s growing influence on Taiwan and the public is increasingly concerned about the nation’s widening wealth gap, analysts said.

Sean Lien’s camp tried to mobilize pan-blue supporters in Taipei by sharpening partisan and ideological lines, but the tactics seem to have backfired. His attempts to highlight economic themes received more criticism than praise after many found them to be lacking in substance, contributing to the KMT receiving about 188,000 less votes than the 798,000 outgoing Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) garnered in 2010.

Yesterday’s results also saw the DPP take the big prize in central Taiwan after unseating Greater Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強) of the KMT, who led the city for 13 years, and claim an upset in Taoyuan.

Electoral results in the outlying islands also changed the political topography, with the KMT retaining only one of the three islands.

In Penghu, the DPP’s Chen Kuang-fu (陳光復) defeated the KMT’s Su Kun-hsiung (蘇崑雄), ending the ruling party’s 20-year governance over the island county by winning 29,164 votes (55.34 percent), versus Su’s 23,533 votes (44.66 percent).

Chen vowed to honor his campaign pledges, which include stimulating tourism and resolving the difficulties county residents face in traveling outside the archipelago.

In Kinmen County, former KMT legislator Chen Fu-hai (陳福海) declared victory in a crowded commissioner’s race, topping nine other candidates. The 51-year-old independent defeated Kinmen County Commissioner Li Wo-shih (李沃士) of the KMT after garnering 23,965 votes (52.77 percent) against the incumbent’s 15,146 (33.35 percent). The DPP did not field a candidate in Kinmen.

In Pingtung County, DPP commissioner candidate Pan Men-an (潘孟安) defeated the KMT’s Chien Tai-lang (簡太郎) by 60,530 votes (58.14 percent) to 43,587 (41.86 percent), a result that disproved DPP worries that the recent adulterated oil scandals would affect its turnout in the county, which has been a pan-green stronghold since 1997.

The KMT easily held Lienchiang County, with the top two candidates, Liu Tseng-ying (劉增應) and Yang Sui-sheng (楊綏生), both of the KMT. They received 4,385 votes (66.25 percent) and 2,234 votes (33.75 percent) respectively.

About 60,000 police officers were mobilized nationwide yesterday, with barbed-wire barricades erected outside the Presidential Office Building in Taipei.

Additional reporting by Jake Chung and AFP

This story has been corrected since it was first published.