Saturday, December 12, 2009

Local election results prompt Ma administration soul searching

President Ma Ying-jeou, chairman of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT), vowed to continue pushing for reforms and said his party will humbly conduct a thorough review of current administrative policies in the wake of the local elections which reduced the party's control of county and city governments by two. The total number of counties contested at the elections was 17, among them four were won by the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and one by an independent.

Ma declined to characterize the outcome of the latest elections as a defeat for the party, but did say that the election results were “not satisfactory.” With the economy in deep recession and experiencing a high unemployment rate, Ma described voters as “very kind and generous” towards the KMT at the elections.

On December 5th, 65 percent of the roughly seven million eligible voters in Taiwan and its offshore islands went to the polls to elect 17 new county magistrates, 592 county councilors, and 211 township chiefs.

The “three-in-one” elections excluded the administrations in Taipei City and Kaohsiung City, both of which enjoy special municipality status. No elections were held in Taipei County, Kaohsiung County, Taichung City, Taichung County, Tainan City, and Tainan County since they are due to be upgraded or merged into special municipalities. In December 2010, elections in Taipei City, the New Taipei Municipality (originally Taipei County), Greater Taichung, Greater Tainan and Greater Kaohsiung municipalities will be held. These are considered to be the most important elections prior to the 2012 presidential election.

KMT suffers setback, opposition gains ground

The KMT won elections in 12 counties, maintaining a ruling majority in northern and eastern Taiwan, and on the offshore islands. The KMT lost in Ilan County, which is a region heavily influenced by the DPP. The victor in Hualien County was a former KMT member, who violated KMT discipline rules to enter the election. The United Daily News called this election one with “no surprises.”

In 2005 at, the last local elections of county magistrates and city mayors (including those places where no elections were held this time), the KMT won 50.96 percent of the total votes. This time they only won 47.8 percent. The DPP, except for losing to the KMT by 2.7 million votes at the 2008 presidential election, the party gained 45.3 percent of the total ballots, an increase from the 41.95 percent. The margin between the DPP and the KMT has now closed to only 2.5 percent. This time, the DPP gained ground in every county and city except in Hualien County, where the DPP made no candidate nominee.

Most media outlets in Taiwan attributed the DPP’s small victory to the success of its election maneuvering by Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen, and considered her the best DPP candidate for Taipei City mayor in 2010. Tsai has a PhD in Law from the London School of Economics and Political Science. Some media consider her as a strong candidate against Ma when he runs for re-election in 2012. Commenting on the election results, Tsai said the significance of the elections is that “people cast a no confidence vote against the Ma government.”

Given the state of the economy, the Liberty Times attributed the KMT’s defeat to Ma’s failure at the mid-term elections. However, the Taipei-based China Times said the DPP was sure to win more votes based on the KMT’s unimpressive administrative performance and not because of Tsai’s leadership, or the DPP’s efforts to reform.

Let battle commence

Professor Chen Chao-chien at Min Chuang University said the DPP’s small victory is the result of a “pendulum swing effect.” Due to the repeated scandals suffered by the previous DPP government, wavering voters used their votes to penalize the DPP at the 2008 presidential election. This time around, they are doing the same to give a warning to the ruling KMT.

Even after losing two counties at the elections this time, the KMT still controls a majority in the county magistrates. This will not hurt the ruling KMT’s administrative capability and will have only a limited impact on the stock market and relations across the Taiwan Strait.

However, the elections are the first round of skirmishes before the 2012 presidential election battle begins. The second round will be the elections of five special municipality mayors in 2010. The southern municipalities of Kaohsiung and Tainan have traditionally been under DPP leadership. In recent years, Taipei City and the New Taipei Municipality in the north have also been in the hands of the DPP. The KMT will surely face a tough fight in 2010.

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About Me

The Press Division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in San Francisco represents the Government Information Office (GIO), Executive Yuan, Republic of China (Taiwan). GIO maintains nine Press Divisions in the United States, including the San Francisco office. The Press Divisions are in charge of promoting Taiwan's public relations and cultural exchanges. This blog is updated by the Press Division, TECO in San Francisco.