Generally aligned with expectations (based on pre-election polling) and similar to the results of the last local elections in 2018, the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party won big in Taiwan’s local elections on November 26. They came out on top of 13 of the 21 city mayor/county governor elections. The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) only won 5. Following the polls, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen resigned as leader of the DPP. She remains president of Taiwan, though, with her second and final term ending in early 2024.
We asked Asia expert Michael Cunningham to give us a run down on the results. Here is his take.
What the heck happened? The main takeaway here is that the KMT remains a powerful force in Taiwan politics despite the DPP’s strong influence among younger voters and continued dominance in its traditional stronghold of southern Taiwan. The local polls (which include elections for city mayors, county governors, and city/county councils) are decided largely on local issues. While they are often characterized as Taiwan’s equivalent of “mid-term elections,” due to their occurring just over a year before the presidential and parliamentary elections, the KMT’s blowout victory four years ago had no bearing on the general election in 2020, which Tsai and the DPP won in a landslide (the DPP’s rebound in 2020 was partly due to Tsai’s ability to capitalize on Beijing’s high-profile crackdown on Hong Kong’s protesters and the erosion of “one country two systems”).
What’s your takeaway? Elections in Taiwan are competitive, with just under half of the population supporting the KMT, just under half supporting the DPP, and a smaller group of swing voters deciding the difference. Tsai attempted to cast these local elections through the lens of Chinese aggression towards the island in order to energize the DPP’s base, but she was not successful. This was likely because the local offices up for election had little to do with China policy.