Pacific News Minute: A Look Ahead to Taiwan’s “Midterm” Elections this Weekend

Nov 22, 2018

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen
Credit MiNe / Flickr

While local politics dominated some of the races in this month’s midterm elections, most analysts looked closely at national trends, and at how the results will affect the Presidential election come 2020. That same pattern will hold for local elections this weekend in Taiwan.

More than 11,000 officials will be elected on Saturday, but, like the midterms in this country, the vote will be seen as a referendum on the President, Tsai Ing-wen, and on her Democratic Progressive party, which dominated these local elections four years ago, then swept into power two years later.

In the last few weeks, President Tsai and the DPP have been able to play the China card. As President, Tsai has adopted a pragmatic position, but her DPP has historically supported independence.

Its rival, the Kuomintang, is much more pro-Beijing. The KMT’s formal position is called the “three noes” – no unification, no independence and no use of force. But in a speech this month, former KMT President Ma Ying-jeou revised that; “no unification” became “not against unification.” That change of terminology may have been a political gift to the DPP.

Former KMT President Ma Ying-jeou
Credit Office of the President, Republic of China / Wikimedia Commons

Almost 50 percent of Taiwanese do not identify with either party, though, and the most closely watched election will be in Taipei, where independent Ko Wen-je is running for re-election as mayor.

The former surgeon is noted for his adept use of social media and scorn for the established political parties, but he can’t escape the big issue either. On a visit to the mainland, Mayor Ko used the phrase “as close as family” to describe the Taiwanese and Chinese, a phrase associated with Chinese President Xi Jinping. If Ko wins, as expected, he will immediately be seen as a major presidential candidate.