The ruling party in Taiwan received a message this weekend to show more achievements, including engagement with the island’s old nemesis China, as the opposition camp swept midterm elections. The Democratic Progressive Party of President Tsai Ing-wen lost all but six mayoral and county magistrate seats Saturday, the first electoral test of its two years in the presidency. Fifteen seats went to the opposition Nationalist Party, which wants closer ties with China. The ruling party advocates for more distance. China claims sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan, causing decades of friction between the two sides. “I think if this year, in 2018, if the Nationalists smoothly win Taiwan’s city and county elections, that has some warning effects on the party in power, to let them know they’ve made mistakes in the past two years,” said Taipei voter Hong Wei-chi, 40, a marketing specialist. Tsai stepped down Saturday night as party chief, though retaining the presidency, to take what she described as “full responsibility” for the election losses. Her premier also offered to resign, and the Central Election Commission head quit over the slow processing of ballots.
Some voters believe Tsai hasn’t done enough to lift Taiwan’s economy despite data that points to improvement, said Raymond Wu, managing director of political risk consultancy e-telligence in Taipei. Unemployment has fallen to 3.76 percent during Tsai’s term and the economy is forecast to grow 2.68 percent this year.
Others are turned off by the ruling party because it stands by statements and actions that others find problematic, said Gratiana Jung, senior political researcher with the Yuanta-Polaris Research Institute think tank in Taipei. “The elections are not just local, they’re about governing style,” Jung said. “There are people who have criticized the government’s way of communicating as being too arrogant.”
Voters interviewed ahead of the vote said they were looking for local leaders who could build major new infrastructure, stimulate the economy or help particular groups such as youth.