Taiwan’s main opposition party the Kuomintang (KMT) won control of the Taipei mayorship on Saturday in a setback for President Tsai Ing-wen, who had framed the local elections as being about showing defiance to China’s rising bellicosity.
The elections for mayors, county chiefs and local councillors are ostensibly about domestic issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic and crime, and those elected will not have a direct say on China policy.
But Tsai, who leads the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), had recast the election as being more than a local vote, saying the world is watching how Taiwan defends its democracy amid military tensions with China, which claims the island as its territory.
Both the DPP and KMT, which traditionally favours close ties with China though denies being pro-Beijing, had concentrated their campaign efforts in wealthy and populous northern Taiwan, especially the capital Taipei, whose mayor from the small Taiwan People’s Party could not run again due to term limits.
“I have let everyone down,” the DPP’s Taipei mayor candidate Chen Shih-chung told supporters, adding he has offered his “sincere” congratulations to the KMT’s Wayne Chiang in a telephone call, and urged people to continue to support Tsai.
China carried out war games near Taiwan in August to express anger at a visit to Taipei by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and its military activities have continued, though on a reduced scale.
The KMT swept the 2018 local elections, and has accused Tsai and the DPP of being overly confrontational with China.
The KMT is so far leading in the majority of the 21 city mayor and county chief races across the island, initial results show.
The election took place a month after the 20th congress of China’s Communist Party, where President Xi Jinping secured an unprecedented third term in office – a point Tsai has repeatedly made on the campaign trail.