The defeats suffered by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in Saturday’s local elections are being interpreted as a failed midterm test for President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) leadership and a boost for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), suggesting a more competitive 2024 presidential election.
Although the local elections do not necessarily have a major effect on national elections, last week’s results will surely make the 2024 race more intense. The DPP won only five of the top races in the 21 city and county elections, its worst performance since its founding in 1986. The KMT won 13 seats, including the capital, Taipei, and three other special municipalities — Taoyuan, New Taipei City and Taichung — with the four municipalities accounting for about half of Taiwan’s population.
The TPP won the Hsinchu City mayoralty, making the party and its chairman, Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), major players with a strong political platform, even with Ko’s time in office about to end, setting the TPP apart from other small parties that are always at risk of fading.
Tsai has stepped down as DPP chairperson to take responsibility for the party’s disastrous losses, partly because most of its candidates were directly nominated by party leaders instead of in primaries, a strategic flaw that many consider harmful to unity. In addition, most of its candidates were bogged down by negative campaigning from their opponents.
Although Tsai had framed the elections as a means to defy China’s bellicosity, voters in local elections tend to be more focused on local issues, such as inflation or COVID-19 restrictions. A section of the electorate was also influenced by local factions, something the KMT has traditionally benefited from more. However, Saturday’s results will not necessarily have a major effect on 2024, when cross-strait issues would once again be a top issue. The KMT lost the 2020 presidential election, despite sweeping victories in the 2018 local elections.
Moreover, Saturday’s turnout was a historic low, with only 59 percent of eligible voters participating in the six special municipalities, much lower than the 75 percent in 2020 and 69.9 percent in 2018. The DPP lost votes in the top races while the KMT gained 5.7 million votes, even with a 300,000-person drop in participation from 2018. The data show that people are apathetic about local elections, but presidential elections are usually more motivating.
The DPP has vowed introspection and reformation, which should include a wholesale reorganization of the party’s leadership, a strategy review and even a Cabinet reshuffle. Its biggest challenge is how to regain public trust.
The KMT has won more local power and resources, which should help it in 2024, but it still has to address skepticism over its pro-China image, especially amid increasing intimidation from Beijing. It also has to handle possibly damaging rivalries among KMT Chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫), New Taipei City Mayor Hou You-yi (侯友宜) and Legislator Chiang Wan-an (蔣萬安), a rising star after winning the Taipei mayoral election — with all three of them expected to seek the presidency.
Ko also has ambitions to lead the nation, but the TPP lacks the votes. Ko might seek to cooperate with the KMT, which would increase the threat to the DPP.
Meanwhile, the failure of the constitutional referendum to lower the voting age — which gleaned only 5.65 million “yes” votes, far below the threshold to pass, and with “no” and invalid votes not far behind — indicates that political parties who claimed to support the change did not follow through on it. The non-realization of an expanded youth vote might be a crucial factor in 2024.
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Hon Hai Precision Industry Co founder Terry Gou (郭台銘) might be accused of twice breaking his promises and betraying the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), then launching a signature drive for himself to stand as a candidate in January’s presidential election, only to turn around and quit the race. It clearly shows that rich people are free to do as they like. If that is so, then Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) Chairman and presidential candidate Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) is the perfect example of a political hack who changes his position as easily as turning the pages of a book. Taiwanese independence supporters
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