Taiwan President Steps Down as Ruling Party Leader After Election Losses

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Opposition Kuomintang mayoral candidate Han Kuo-yu (in blue) waves to supporters during a rally in Kaohsiung, Nov. 21, 2018.
Opposition Kuomintang mayoral candidate Han Kuo-yu (in blue) waves to supporters during a rally in Kaohsiung, Nov. 21, 2018.
AP Photo

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has resigned as leader of the island's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) after it suffered significant losses to opposition Kuomintang (KMT) nationalists in local elections over the weekend.

The DPP lost around half of the cities and counties it won in its 2014 island-wide landslide, while losing the mayor's race in Kaohsiung, which it has controlled for 20 years, in a shock defeat to KMT outsider Han Kuo-yu.

"Now that I have resigned as party leader, the DPP will undergo organizational reforms," Tsai told journalists after accepting responsibility for the election result. But she declined to accept the resignation of premier William Lai.

Meanwhile, Han, now mayor-elect of Kaohsiung, said the city will be reaching out to Beijing after two years of strained ties that have marked Tsai's presidency.

"My position on cross-straits relations is that of the 1992 consensus," Han said, referring to an informal agreement between the Chinese Communist Party and the then-ruling KMT that Taiwan is a province of a yet-to-be reunified China, and cannot therefore seek membership of international bodies.

"And it is because of the 1992 consensus that, when Kaohsiung reaches out to the rest of the world, we will do so with no barriers in our minds," said Han, who was elected on a platform promising economic benefits from closer links with the communist government in Beijing, which has never ruled Taiwan.

The mainland Chinese state media reacted with glee to the defeats inflicted on the DPP at the polls, blaming the results on dissatisfaction with Tsai's administration, and policy of ignoring the 1992 consensus.

"The Tsai administration's secessionist stance has not only soured its crucial relations with the Chinese mainland, but also made it unpopular with people on both sides of the straits," the China Daily said in an editorial.

"The election shows that the Tsai administration has betrayed Taiwan's interests and become a troublemaker whose actions have drifted farther away from the practical needs of the Taiwan people and the historical truth of the consensus there is only one China."

Tsai has refused to endorse the 1992 consensus, also known as the "One China" policy, and Beijing has retaliated with military saber-rattling and a campaign to isolate Taipei still further on the world stage.

The Global Times called on Tsai to "make an about-face" on the 1992 consensus in the wake of the election result.

The elections were marred by fears of growing influx of covert funding backed by Beijing, and government accusations that Beijing was using social media to try to influence the election result.

On the same weekend, pro-Beijing candidate Yan Chang took a seat in Hong Kong's Legislative Council (LegCo) left vacant by the disqualification of a pro-democracy lawmaker whose oath of allegiance was ruled invalid by China's parliament.

Economic arguments

Hung Chih-fu, politics professor at Taiwan's National Cheng Kung University, said Beijing has recently stepped up campaigns to influence the results of democratic elections in Taiwan and Hong Kong in its favor. Its hallmark is the use of primarily economic arguments.

"They ride along on the coattails of the economic card," Hung told RFA on Monday. "That's to say that they use democratic means to push their agenda in both places."

"Previously, the methods they used were pretty crude, and didn't really have the desired effect," he said. "Now, they are gaming democracies; playing them at their own game ... [and] they are getting better and better at ... influencing political developments in both places."

Hong Kong political commentator Sang Pu agreed, saying that the issue of Chinese influence still isn't widely understood among many voters, and that Han's victory in Kaohsiung showed how effective economic arguments are in winning voters over.

"The economy card has been played for all it is worth," Sang said. "Han Kuo-yu was elected mayor of Kaohsiung on the basis of it, and in Hong Kong, Yan Chan stood on an economic platform."

"Economic arguments and campaigns are becoming very, very common," he said.

Taiwan voters also rejected the idea of gay marriage in a referendum that had been intended to pave the way for the legalization of same-sex marriage in Taiwan.

In a blow to the island's liberal reputation in the region, more than two-thirds of voters endorsed the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.

The referendum result comes after a 2017 constitutional court ruling that same-sex couples have the right to marry set a two-year deadline for the government to legislate.

LGBT groups said they are considering a legal challenge to the vote, citing a misinformation campaign by anti-groups during the referendum campaign and more than 2,000 reports of electoral rule-breaking.

Support for self-rule

Taiwan was ruled as a Japanese colony in the 50 years prior to the end of World War II, but was handed back to the 1911 Republic of China under the nationalist Kuomintang government as part of Tokyo's post-war reparation deal.

When the 1911 regime fled to Taiwan in 1947 after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong's communist troops, the Republic of China government ceased to control most of China, though it continues to be the official name of the Taiwan government.

The island began a transition to democracy following the death of Chiang's son, President Chiang Ching-kuo, in January 1988, starting with direct elections to the legislature in the early 1990s and culminating in the first direct election of a president, Lee Teng-hui, in 1996.

Recent opinion polls indicate that there is broad political support for self-rule in Taiwan, where the majority of voters identify as Taiwanese rather than Chinese.

But Beijing regards the island as part of China, and has threatened to invade if Taiwan seeks formal independence.

Reported by Jing Yuan and Hwang Chun-mei for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Chung Kuang-cheng for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.





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