Taiwan’s young democracy puts down deeper roots with every election cycle, and the island holds an important vote this weekend with 20,000 candidates for more than 10,000 offices. The most watched election is for mayor of Taipei, where candidate Ko Wen-je is causing panic in Taiwan’s ruling party and making Chinese leaders in Beijing nervous. A newcomer to politics, Mr. Ko has become a lighting rod for debates over national identity and traditional values in Taiwan. The independent candidate is receiving prominent media coverage, which he has been using to step outside mainstream politics and challenge the establishment. The quirky medical doctor has stayed comfortably on top of opinion polls while surviving a barrage of accusations and crude smears – such as charges that family loyalty to Japan several generations ago makes him unfit to be mayor — that have questioned his character and career as one of the island’s leading surgeons.
Meanwhile, Ko’s opponent, Sean Lien, may be fumbling what once looked like a sure bet for the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). Fighting to retain control of a city long a bastion of loyalists for his party, Mr. Lien has run a high-profile campaign with a long to-do list. But emotional and sometimes divisive interventions from KMT elders, including his own father, have revived partisan conflicts over how Taiwanese identify their state and society.
Taiwan’s vote on Nov. 29 has consequences far beyond the boundaries of local government, and is more significant than local elections often seem in other democracies.