ELECTIONS 2022/Taiwan's local elections not a barometer for 2024 presidential race: Experts

11/27/2022 02:27 PM
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CNA photo Nov. 26, 2022
CNA photo Nov. 26, 2022

Taipei, Nov. 27 (CNA) Taiwan's local election results will bolster the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) but are unlikely to have a major bearing on the 2024 presidential contest, when cross-strait issues will be back on the ballot, international scholars said.

In Saturday's elections, the KMT took 13 of the 21 cities and counties up for grabs, including four of the country's six biggest metropolitan areas where nearly 70 percent of Taiwan's people live.

Meanwhile, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) saw its number of local government head posts slip from seven to five, prompting President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) to announce her resignation as party chair.

Despite the decisive nature of the results, several foreign scholars interviewed by CNA cautioned against reading too much into them vis-à-vis the national elections that Taiwan will hold in 14 months.

Local elections in Taiwan are primarily focused on "personalities and local issues, not on China," according to Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund in Washington.

"In my view, the outcome of these elections is not a barometer of the January 2024 presidential election," she said.

Shelley Rigger, professor of political science at Davidson University, said that while the elections had a local focus, they showed that the KMT "has not been eliminated as a competitive player" in Taiwan's politics, and should not be counted out in 2024.

If the KMT is to be competitive then, she argued, it needs to continue working to overcome its portrayal as a "Beijing-leaning" party in local media.

"They need to finish adjusting their message to align with the mainstream Taiwanese preference for the status quo," Rigger said.

Yoshiyuki Ogasawara, a professor at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies who correctly predicted that the DPP would win only five municipalities, told the Asahi Shimbun newspaper that the ruling party had made missteps in the selection of its Taipei and Taoyuan mayoral nominees, and was unsuccessful in its efforts to play up the China issue before the election.

In terms of the results, Ogasawara said he viewed it as a sign of the "maturity" of Taiwan's democracy that voters are able to compartmentalize their thinking about local and national elections. For this reason, he added, the KMT's win is unlikely to have a major impact on 2024.

Kharis Templeman, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, said the KMT benefited from structural advantages in local elections -- such as that the majority of cities and counties are more pro-KMT than the national average -- and the fact that it had several popular incumbents on the ballot.

At the same time, he said, there may have been "some fatigue" among the electorate with the DPP, particularly in terms of the candidates the party put forward this time.

While the KMT will have to craft a different message for its national election campaign, Saturday's results showed that the party "has a future in Taiwan politics and [will probably] be competitive in 2024," Templeman said.

(By Stacy Hsu, Yang Ming-chu, Chang Hsin-yu and Matthew Mazzetta)

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