On Saturday November 29, Taiwan held its nation-wide local elections, commonly known as the “9-in-1” elections. The ruling KMT suffered a historical defeat, losing 9 of 16 county and metropolitan level executive positions, and losing 6.2% of local council seats overall.More than 11,000 total positions were up for election, making this the largest election in Taiwan’s history in terms of scale. According to the numbers from Taiwan’s Central Election Commission, the total percentage of votes across all elections are 30% for the DPP, 34% for the KMT and 36% for independents and other parties. Looking at county and metropolitan level elections only, the results are 44% for the DPP, 40% for the KMT, 10% for independents and 6% for other parties.
Overall voter turnout was 67.59%, down from 74.47% in the 2012 national elections, and from 71.71% in 2010 metropolitan elections. However it was up from 63.34% in the 2009 local elections. Previously, analysts say that low voter turnout has traditionally favored the KMT, which has a stronger local mobilization network, but some analysts say that the turnout this time may mean that many KMT supporters stayed home and allowed their opponents to win.
Of the elections, the race for the mayor of Taipei, the capital, was the most dramatic. In a city where the conventional wisdom says the KMT can count on 55% solid support, the KMT’s Sean Lien lost with 40.82% of the vote, while the winner Ko Wen-je won with 57.16%. Supported by the DPP but running as an independent, Ko won in all of Taipei’s districts, including traditional KMT strongholds of Da’an and Wenshan. According to Sean King, a senior Asia strategy consultant, it “was like Republicans losing Texas.”
Another surprise victory for the DPP is in Taoyuan, another metropolitan area just south of Taipei. The KMT’s Wu Chih-yang led in polls by 19-24%, but lost to the DPP’s Cheng Wen-tsan, who won 51% of the vote. Taoyuan has also been a KMT stronghold, despite having former DPP chairman Hsu Hsin-liang and former Vice President Annette Lu as county commissioners.
Lien and Wu are sons of former KMT chairmen and current honorary chairmen Lien Chan and Wu Po-hsiung, respectively. Lien and Wu were instrumental in influencing China policy through regular direct meetings with Chinese Communist Party chairmen Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping.
Even in DPP held areas, incumbent DPP executives did better than expected, with Kaohsiung’s Chen Chu winning 68.09% of total votes and Tainan’s Lai Ching-te winning 72.90%.
Smaller parties, long thought to be disadvantaged, also earned a few more seats than expected. The Green Party of Taiwan won two local council seats, and the Flanc Radical, a group that fielded five independent candidates, did not win any seats but came close in Hsinchu, bowing out due to a quota requirement for women.
Commentators have generally attributed KMT’s catastrophic loss to President Ma Ying-jeou’s unpopularity, and frustration over stagnant wages and increasing wealth disparities. The Ma administration’s economic policies of trade liberalization and closer ties with China are also thought to be reasons why voters overwhelmingly voted against KMT candidates.
Furthermore, most agree that the Sunflower Movement in March has brought many more younger voters to be more politically aware and antagonistic towards the KMT. The youth vote was considered to be another factor for the results.
While the election results are widely interpreted to be a solid rejection of KMT policies, some commentators are warning that the DPP should not assume a blank mandate from voters. Commonwealth Magazine points out that the DPP may not be prepared to govern in places that they did not expect to win, and popular blogger Prof. Perng Ming-hui of Tsinghua University wrote that the DPP’s economic policies, and connections to cross straits corporate interests, are not so different from the KMT’s.
So far, Premier Jiang Yi-huah and the cabinet has resigned to “take responsibility for the losses.” President Ma Ying-jeou has pledged to resign as party chairman on Wednesday, but it is still unclear who will replace them in those positions. After by-elections, the national elections for parliament and the president is just around the corner in early 2016.