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

CC BY 2.0 / 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 willaffect 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.

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

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.

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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