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Local elections give DPP lessons, KMT momentum: analysts

2018/11/27 13:09:31

Taipei, Nov. 27 (CNA) Saturday's local government elections have forced the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to reflect on its failures and given the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) the chance to make a comeback ahead of presidential and legislative elections in January 2020, analysts said.

According to the Central Election Commission (CEC), the KMT garnered 6.1 million votes (48.79 percent) in the elections for 22 city mayor and county magistrates, surpassing the DPP's 4.90 million votes (39.16 percent).

In winning 15 of the 22 seats up for grabs, including three of the six special municipalities -- New Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung -- the KMT received 1.11 million more votes than it did when it crashed to defeat in the last local polls in 2014.

The DPP lost 1.20 million votes compared with 2014 if the votes received both times by re-elected independent Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) are taken into consideration, and it also lost seven of the 13 seats it held previously.

Ko also ran as an independent in 2014 but was supported by the DPP.

The voting was dominated by domestic issues and "the DPP in multiple places failed to live up to expectations of change," Timothy Rich, an expert on Taiwan politics and an associate professor of political science at Western Kentucky University, told CNA in a recent email interview.

Tsai was elected in 2016 with a strong mandate -- her vote share of 56.12 percent was the second highest since the first presidential election in 1996 and her DPP won more than half the seats in the Legislative Yuan for the first time in history.

Since then, there have been high expectations of Tsai's government, including better wages and living standards, said Michael Danielsen, chairman of Taiwan Corner, a Denmark-based non-governmental organization that focuses on Taiwan.

Many of the initiatives Tsai has taken to transform Taiwan's economy have not yet materialized, and it's difficult to achieve much in two years, Danielsen said, but Taiwanese tend to be impatient on the issue of living standards.

Over the last two years, the DPP government has had significant achievements in the areas of transitional justice and pension reform and has tried to expand Taiwan's international space without provoking China, said Dafydd Fell, director of the Center of Taiwan Studies at SOAS, University of London.

But the DPP has really struggled to convince voters of its record, Fell said. "Its political communication has not been very successful, and the KMT has tried to frame the election as a means to punish Tsai and the DPP," he said.

On the most-watched race in Kaohsiung, where the KMT's Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) beat Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁) of the DPP by 9 percentage points, Fell said much of Han's success in generating voter enthusiasm was down to his campaign message that Kaohsiung was stagnating economically and that he had answers.

In the past, DPP candidates have been successful at campaigning on their record of rebranding Kaohsiung, based on a long list of achievements, but Chen was not successful at getting that message across, he said.

One of the things that made Han popular was that "Han says what people think" even if he lacks knowledge about Kaohsiung and makes overly ambitious proposals, Danielsen observed.

The loss of Kaohsiung was a huge defeat for the DPP and must result in serious soul searching for the party both locally and nationally, he said.

"In the helicopter view, the DPP needs to get out of the party's bubble thinking just talking among themselves and get out, meet and talk with people between elections in Taiwan and abroad far more vigorously," Danielsen said.

Rich said the DPP's loss in Kaohsiung would lead to deeper questions about candidate selection and whether the DPP can comfortably expect high enough turnout in the south to offset a bluer north in the presidential and legislative races.

"If nothing else, a DPP loss here should energize the KMT to consider broader southern strategies for 2020," Rich added.

The dramatic shift in the political landscape from green to blue was dubbed as a "Han wave" or "blue wave" to describe the KMT's resurgence driven by Han.

Tsai's resignation as DPP chairperson on election night certainly added fuel to the fire that this was a "blue wave," but this may simply be many voters returning to their pre-2014 inclinations, Rich observed.

Some of the electoral results beyond the main mayor and magistrate races do not suggest a massive KMT wave, but that voters defected from the DPP, he said, citing as an example seat share in the municipal council races.

According to the CEC, of the 912 seats in city and county councils across the nation, the KMT grabbed 394, 20 more compared with 2014, while the DPP saw a sharp drop of 70 seats, from 308 in 2014 to 238.

The KMT didn't run a strong campaign in the elections, but it took advantage of the overall mood of pessimism and dissatisfaction, Fell said, adding that the KMT will definitely take the momentum into the national campaign.

The election results showed that the KMT has made a local comeback, and it can use the special municipalities to make a national comeback, Danielsen said.

For the DPP, one of the many roads forward now is to continue the political reforms with higher speed and wait for the results, he said.

(By Shih Hsiu-chuan)
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