Taiwan's voters have rejected the China-friendly Kuomintang party in the local elections. While President Ma Ying-jeou looked towards Beijing, the voters sought inspiration from Hong Kong, writes DW's Matthias von Hein.
They were only regional elections, yet they caused no less than a political tremor. Nothing is normal in Taiwan when it comes to politics. But then Taiwan is not a normal country anyway - its humungous neighbor China treats it as a renegade province that must be reunited with the motherland. In fact, all aspects of the Taiwanese politics and society are somehow affected by Beijing. The local elections, which took place on Saturday, November 29, were pretty much the same.
The polls were more about who would rule Taiwan's 22 cities and counties. It was also about a lot more than the issues of urban planning, transport, or affordable housing for the citizens. The elections were actually a referendum on the pro-China president Ma, who has been in power for nearly six years.
DW's Matthias von Hein
The ongoing pro-democracy protests in China-administered Hong Kong have also played an important role in determining the election outcome. It seems that Beijing's model of "one country, two systems"; which is occasionally floated in connection with Taiwan has lost any appeal for the people on the island.
Clearly, the way the Chinese authorities are dealing with Hong Kong has not made the model more attractive for the Taiwanese people.
Some two million of the 23 million Taiwanese live on mainland China. Beijing had urged them to travel to Taiwan for the election day; some reports suggest that the communist authorities had even offered plane tickets on reduced prices. But the money and power of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party, and the indirect electoral assistance from Beijing, could not change the election outcome.
The KMT managed to win only six of the 22 counties and cities. Particularly painful for the nationalists was the loss of the capital. The shock was so deep that Prime Minister Jiang Yi-hua resigned with his entire cabinet. President Ma is also expected to step down as KMT chairman.
Ma has been responsible for improving Taipei's strained relations with Beijing. During his tenure, he sealed many economic agreements with Beijing and boosted bilateral tourism. At the same time, the island became more economically dependent on China than ever, which likely worried the Taiwanese.
Earlier this year, the region's students staged three-week-long "occupy" demonstrations outside the parliament to protest against a trade agreement with China. Quite a lot of their fellow citizens supported the so-called "Sunflower Student movement."
It is just a start. The anti-Beijing sentiment in Taiwan is likely to increase. It is unlikely that Kuomintang would win the 2016 presidential elections. The next president might be from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
The DPP is much more leaning towards independence than the KMT. Beijing has declared several times, any de-facto-declaration of independence would be answered by military action. Relations across the Taiwan-Strait are not going to be easier. But one action might be useful: Beijing should allow free elections in Hong Kong. That way it might positively impress the Taiwanese citizens.