Although the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) won the mayoral races in Taipei City, the Xinbei City (New Taipei Municipality, originally Taipei County) and the Greater Taichung City (to be formed by a merger of Taichung City and Taichung County) on November 27, the party lost heavily to the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in other areas.
The big losses came for the KMT in the DPP’s traditional strongholds in the south, where the DPP scored double-digit victories in Greater Tainan City (to be formed by a merger of Tainan City and Tainan County) and Greater Kaohsiung City (to be formed by a merger of Kaohsiung City and Kaohsiung County).
In Taipei, voters reelected the incumbent KMT Mayor Hau Lung-bin over the DPP’s Su Tseng-chang. Hau garnered 793,101 votes, or 55.68 percent, to Su’s 623,808 votes, or 43.79 percent. The KMT’s Eric Li-luan Chu won Xinbei City, defeating DPP Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen with 1,115,536 votes or 52.61 percent. Tsai grabbed 1,004,900 votes, or 47.39 percent. Both Tsai and Su lost this time, but they are generally considered as the most potential DPP candidates for the 2012 presidential election.
In Taichung, sitting KMT Mayor Jason Hu secured 730,284 votes, or 51.12 percent, beating DPP Secretary-General Su Jia-chyuan who captured a surprising 698,358 votes, or 48.88 percent. In Tainan, DPP Legislator William Lai won 619,897 votes, or 60.41 percent, trumping KMT Legislator Kuo Tien-tsai, with 406,196 votes, or 39.59 percent. Sitting DPP Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu defeated KMT Legislator Huang Chao-shun and independent Yang Chiu-hsing by a wide margin, garnering 821,089 votes, or 52.8 percent. Huang and Yang garnered votes totaling 319,171 and 414,950, or 20.52 percent and 26.68 percent, respectively.
The expanded municipalities will be officially established on December 25 with each mayor serving a four-year term.
A warning sign for KMT
In Saturday’s elections, the five KMT mayoral candidates garnered 44.54% of the total ballots (versus the DPP’s 49.87%), losing more than 400,000 votes to the DPP. However, in the 2008 presidential election, the KMT’s candidate Ma Ying-jeou won a landslide of 1.1 million votes over the DPP’s Frank Hsieh. In the mayoral and municipal elections at the end of 2009, the KMT’s leading margin to the DPP was reduced to only 110,000 votes. This time around the KMT lost more than 400,000 votes to the DPP, equal to a loss of 1.5 million votes compared with the results from its 2008 presidential victory.
Council members of the five municipalities were also elected. Except for the city council of Tainan, which is controlled by the DPP, the KMT won the majority of seats in city council elections in the four other cities. However, the KMT and the DPP control 130 seats from five city councils respectively. Compared with the numbers prior to this election, the KMT lost 53 seats while the DPP gained an additional 13 seats.
The United Daily News said, “This is a major warning to the KMT,” and “President Ma will encounter a hard fight in his 2012 re-election bid.”
President Ma’s administration has been credited with achieving sound economic performance for Taiwan – with the economic growth rate expected to be close to 10 percent and the unemployment rate dropping below 5 percent. His administration also signed the landmark economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China, so some people wonder why this achievement did not translate into a landslide victory for the KMT.
The Taipei-based China Times reported that KMT Secretary-General King Pu-tsung thought voters in Taiwan simply have higher expectations of the ruling party than before. Political commentator Su Ying-kui said in a review in the United Daily News, “Relatively speaking, the elections are in favor of the opposition, because in any democratic country the average voters are often dissatisfied with the status quo. For the ruling KMT, we cannot say it has won the election, nor has it failed.”
The World Journal noted Ramon Myers, senior researcher of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, as stressing that without the signing of the ECFA, the performance of the KMT in Saturday’s elections would have been a lot worse. He said that whether President Ma can win re-election in 2012, is heavily dependent on whether his administration can effectively implement the ECFA and enable ordinary voters to feel the economic benefits of the trade accord.
According the Central News Agency, President Ma said after the elections that the government will not change its established policy toward the mainland or alter its progress..
Son of former VP critically wounded by gunman
Overall voter-turnout in the five municipality elections was high, reaching 71.71 percent, second only to the 76.33 percent who turned out for the 2008 presidential election. The Liberty Times attributed the high turnout to the shooting of Lien Sheng-wen, son of former Vice President Lien Chan, plus the good weather on election day.
Lien Sheng-wen was shot in the head and critically wounded at a campaign rally in suburban Taipei one day before the elections. Lien was speaking on behalf of a KMT candidate for city councilor. A civilian was killed in the incident. The suspect in the shooting is in custody and may belong to a criminal gang. His motives are still under investigation. Because acts of violence are rare in election campaigns in Taiwan, it is generally considered the shooting had some kind of impact on the elections.
The United Daily News reported that “Nobody can be sure that the shooting incident did exert a decisive influence on the results of the mayoral election of the Xinbei Municipality,” and “the KMT did not take advantage of this incident by making a big fuss about it, but this unexpected incident might encourage KMT core supporters to vote, and this may have helped Chu to win the victory in a tight race .”
King Pu-tsung said he is deeply saddened that such an incident should happen, adding that he does not have any valid proof to show there was an impact on the elections, according to the China Times.
DPP still faces more challenges
National Taiwan University professor Wang Yeh-li said in a review in the United Daily News that during the election campaign, DPP candidates mainly emphasized their administrative capabilities, mentioning little about national identity, cross-strait relations, the ECFA, or other core issues. He said that if the DPP depends solely on the support of over forty percent of the pan-green camp, and is not willing to focus on those key issues facing Taiwan, and is trying to win elections only by taking advantage of divisions among the pan-blue camp, then he is “not optimistic” that the DPP will return to power. (The terms “pan-blue” and “pan-green” refer to the loose coalition of groups supporting the KMT and the DPP, respectively.)
The United Daily News said in an editorial that “the elections not only pose a significant challenge for the ruling position of the KMT, but also bring urgent pressure on the DPP to transform itself.” The newspaper noted that the KMT, with more than one year of consolidation time before the 2012 presidential election, is expected to gain an advantage as long as it performs well with regard to the two pillars of cross-strait relations and economic development. In this election, the DPP took a moderate line to attract average voters, instead of focusing on the two issues of national identity and cross-strait policy. However, with die-hard supporters of Taiwan independence, the DPP faces more challenges in taking positions to address the major issues with China such as direct flights, Chinese tourists entering Taiwan, and the ECFA before the 2012 presidential election. “In the post-mayoral election situation, the DPP faces more daunting challenges than the KMT,” commented the paper.
“Five super mayors, five super engines”
The Liberty Times said in an editorial, “The most important message the elections bring to Taiwan’s political arena is that either the ruling party or the opposition could claim victory in the elections and find comfort with the results, or else find warnings to keep in mind, and some areas on which to work hard to make improvements.”
The Liberty Times noted that after the newly established five municipalities the whole country will be divided into 22 counties and cities, among them 16 controlled by the pan-blue camp and six by the pan-green camp. The total population under pan-blue control and pan-green control still remains at roughly 2:1.
Xinbei Municipality will have a population of 3.89 million, ranking as the country’s largest city; Kaohsiung City with 2.77 million will rank in second; Taichung City in third with 2.64 million population; and Taipei, the country’s capital and previously the largest city will have a population of 2.61 million and suddenly falling into fourth place; Tainan with 1.87 million will be fifth.
While the five municipalities occupy only 27 percent of the nation’s territory, their populations account for more than 60 percent, with 56.9 percent of the nation’s total national production and 50.2 percent of its financial and tax revenues.
The establishment of the five municipalities was one of President Ma’s campaign platforms in the 2008 presidential election, aiming to “enhance national competitiveness” and “balanced regional development.” The bill of restructuring the national administrative territory was passed by the Legislative Yuan on January 18, 2010.
Economics professor Chu Yun-peng of the Central University wrote a review in the United Daily News, “the most significance aspect of this election is that except for the mayor of Taipei, the other four mayors wield much greater power than previously and they enjoy much larger budgets and management authority than the leaders of other cities and counties,” he said.
Chu stressed, “After taking up their offices, these mayors should be able to set their economic growth targets, employment growth targets, and with expanded powers, they can control more resources, and roll out their four-year road maps. They will make every effort to improve the investment environment, actively seek business opportunities, promote investment and increase employment, and play an important role in developing Taiwan’s future economy.” He said, “In this scenario, Taiwan’s economy will be like as an airplane with five super engines, there will be a great opportunity to soar in the sky.”