A victory by the Kuomintang in a weekend mayoral race is a small but significant win, reflecting electoral dissatisfaction with the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s performance, including its cross-strait policy, an analyst says.
KMT candidate Wei Chia-hsien defeated his DPP opponent Chang Mei-hui by a comfortable 17,923 votes to 13,958 in the election for mayor of Hualien on Saturday.
Wang Kung-yi, professor of international relations and strategic studies at Tamkang University in Taiwan, said one of the major reasons for Wei’s win was voter unhappiness with the policies of President Tsai Ing-wen, “including those related to cross-strait relations”.
Tsai, from the independence-leaning DPP, was inaugurated on May 20.
Wang said Hualien, on the island’s east coast, was dependent on tourism and used to be a popular destination for mainland visitors.
But because of Tsai’s reluctance to accept the “1992 consensus” – seen by Beijing as a political basis for continued cross-strait interaction – ties with the mainland have cooled since Tsai came to office.
“This has resulted in the sharp reduction of mainland tourists to Hualien and, naturally, voters are disgruntled,” Wang said.
Beijing has repeatedly urged Tsai to acknowledge the consensus reached by the KMT and the mainland in 1992.
The agreement allows the two sides to continue to talk with the understanding that they recognise there is only one China, but can have their own interpretation of what “China” stands for.
But Tsai has said doing so would mean her government supports Beijing’s “one China”, making Taiwan a mainland territory. She later offered to maintain the cross-strait status quo, hoping to keep relations across the Taiwan Strait peaceful.
Opinion polls now put Tsai’s popularity at less that 50 per cent compared with more than 65 per cent when she was first elected.
Analysts said the DPP’s defeat – the third small local government and council by-election since Tsai took office in May – was a boost to the beleaguered KMT, which lost both the presidential and parliamentary elections in January.
“It wasn’t a major election but … the DPP had hoped it could retain control in Hualien so it would have a better chance to win the bigger Hualien county election in 2018,” Wang said.
“Having the KMT regain Hualien city would be discouraging to the DPP.”
The city was controlled by the KMT until Tien Chih-hsuan, who died in May, won the post for the DPP in 2010 and again in 2014.
Analysts said the KMT framed the Hualien race as a vote of confidence in Tsai’s first 100 days in office to try to capitalise on her declining popularity.