TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen has resigned as head of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party following local election losses suffered by her party on Saturday.
Voters in Taiwan overwhelmingly chose the opposition Nationalist party in several major races on the autonomous island in an election that saw lingering concerns about threats from China recede to more local issues.
Tsai had spoken many times about “opposing China and defending Taiwan” during her party’s campaign. But the party’s candidate, Chen Shih-chung, who lost his Taipei mayoral battle, only raised the issue of the Communist Party threat a few times before quickly turning back to local issues because there was little interest, experts said. .
Tsai offered her resignation on Saturday night, a tradition after a major defeat, in a short speech that also thanked her supporters.
“I have to take full responsibility,” he said. “In the face of a result like this, there are many areas that we must review deeply.”
While international observers and the ruling party have tried to link the elections to the long-term existential threat posed by neighboring Taiwan, many local experts do not believe that China, which claims the island as its territory to be forcibly annexed if necessary, have a big role to play this time.
“The international community has raised the stakes too high. They have elevated a local election to this international level and the survival of Taiwan,” said Yeh-lih Wang, a professor of political science at National Taiwan University.
During the campaign, there was little mention of the large-scale military exercises against Taiwan that China conducted in August in reaction to a visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“So I think if you can’t even raise this issue in Taipei,” Wang said. “You don’t even need to consider it in southern cities.”
Nationalist Party candidates won mayoralty in Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, as well as Taoyuan, Taichung and New Taipei City.
Taiwanese elected their mayors, councilors and other local leaders in all 13 counties and nine cities. There was also a referendum to lower the voting age from 20 to 18, which was defeated, according to local media.
Chiang Wan-an, the new mayor of Taipei, declared victory on Saturday night in a large rally. “I will let the world see the greatness of Taipei,” he said.
Not all the votes had been formally counted at the time of his speech, but Chiang’s numerical advantage and the other candidates allowed them to declare victory.
Kao Hung-an, a candidate for the relatively new Taiwan People’s Party, won the mayoralty of Hsinchu, a city that is home to many of Taiwan’s semiconductor companies.
The campaigns had focused resolutely on the local: air pollution in the central city of Taichung, traffic jams in Taipei’s technology hub Nangang, and the procurement strategies for the island’s COVID-19 vaccine, which they had left the island in short supply during an outbreak last year.
The ruling DPP’s defeat may be partly down to how it handled the pandemic.
“The public has some dissatisfaction with the DPP on this, even though Taiwan has done relatively well in preventing pandemics,” said Weihao Huang, a professor of political science at National Sun Yat-sen University.
At an elementary school in New Taipei City, the city that surrounds Taipei, voters young and old arrived early despite the rain.
Yu Mei-zhu, 60, said she came to vote for the current mayor Hou You-yi. “I think he has done well, so I want to continue to support him. I believe in it and that it can improve our environment in New Taipei City and our transportation infrastructure.”
Tsai left early Saturday morning to cast her ballot, surprising many voters as her security and entourage toured the school.
“If the DPP loses many county seats, then its ability to govern will face a big challenge,” said You Ying-lung, president of the Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation, which regularly conducts public polls on political issues.
The election results will also somewhat reflect the public’s attitude towards the ruling party’s performance in the past two years, You said.
Some felt apathetic to the local race. “It feels like everyone is pretty much the same, from a political standpoint,” said Sean Tai, 26, a hardware store clerk.
Tai declined to say who he voted for, but wants someone who will raise Taipei’s profile and provide better economic prospects while maintaining the status quo with China. “We don’t want to be completely sealed off. I really hope that Taiwan can be seen internationally,” she said.