Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s president, speaks during the Bloomberg Taiwan Summit in Taipei, Taiwan. (Photographer: Billy H.C. Kwok/Bloomberg)

Taiwan’s President Handed Stinging Defeat in Regional Elections

(Bloomberg) -- Taiwanese voters delivered President Tsai Ing-wen’s party a resounding defeat in local elections Saturday, ousting it from several key strongholds.

Opposition Kuomintang candidates claimed victory in mayoral races in the major cities of Kaohsiung and Taichung as well as the governor positions in Yilan, Changhua and Yunlin counties, traditionally seen as bastions of support for Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party. Tsai resigned as chairwoman of the party in the wake of the result.

Taiwan’s President Handed Stinging Defeat in Regional Elections

“The DPP believes in democracy and democracy has taught us a lesson,” Tsai said at a briefing Saturday. “We should humbly accept the higher standard the people have set.”

The resounding defeat presents a challenge to Tsai in the final 18 months of her current term. While the loss of several cities and counties doesn’t directly impinge on her ability to govern, it will likely energize the China-friendly KMT as well as embolden opponents within her own party. They have long sought for her to abandon a moderate stance on relations with Beijing and push harder for formal independence for the island.

While functionally independent, Taiwan is only officially recognized as a nation by 17 other countries. China claims the island as part of its territory and rejects ties with any country that recognizes Taiwanese statehood. Beijing has broken off all direct communication with the Taipei government after Tsai refused to accept its “one-China” framework when she took power in 2016.

The race for mayor of the capital Taipei City was too close to call, with several hundred votes separating the independent incumbent Ko Wen-je and his KMT challenger Ting Shou-chung as of 10:30 p.m.

Taiwan’s President Handed Stinging Defeat in Regional Elections

The loss of Kaohsiung is a particularly strong blow to Tsai’s government. The largest city in the DPP’s southern heartland has been governed by the party ever since 1998. Members of the KMT pointed to Tsai’s controversial labor and pension reforms as well as stagnant wages as the main reasons for their strong performance across the island.

At the same time as the elections, voters were also asked to cast ballots in 10 referendums on issues ranging from energy policy to same-sex marriage to the name Taiwan adopts in international sporting events. While ballots were still being tallied, the count on the Central Election Commission’s website as of 10:30 p.m. indicated the public was likely to reject proposals to grant same-sex couples equivalent rights to heterosexual couples and to allow Taiwanese athletes to compete under the name “Taiwan” at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 rather than “Chinese Taipei”.

Key RegionsWinner
Taipei CityToo close to call
New Taipei CityKMT
Yilan CountyKMT
Taoyuan CityDPP
Taichung CityKMT
Tainan CityDPP
Kaohsiung CityKMT

Results as of 10:30 p.m. Saturday, according to Central Election Commission

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