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Taiwan PM defers following electoral drubbing

November 29, 2014

Taiwan's China-friendly ruling party lost a number of traditional strongholds in local elections on Saturday, resulting in the resignation of the island's prime minister.

Wahlen in Taiwan 29.11.2014
Image: picture alliance/AP Photo

The ruling Kuomintang (KMT) shed seats across the island, including in the capital Taipei, where a candidate backed by the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was elected as the next mayor, ending the ruling party's 16-year hold on the city.

Saturday's local elections, held less than two years ahead of a presidential poll, were the first chance for voters to make their voices heard since thousands of young people occupied parliament in March in an unprecedented demonstration against a planned trade pact calling for closer ties with Beijing.

The departure of Prime Minister Jiang Yi-huah (pictured above) just hours after polls closed left President Ma Ying-jeou, who is also KMT chairman, to rebuild a government.

In Taipei, opposition-backed independent candidate Ko Wen-je, a 55-year-old surgeon, defeated the KMT's Sean Lien, the son of a wealthy and politically connected family.

Ko told supporters his win symbolized the "desire for progress" among Taipei residents and that the anti-China protests in March that blocked ratification of a pact with China also highlighted the power of "people movements."

Major losses

The incumbent mayor of the other key Kuomintang stronghold of Taichung, Jason Hu, has also conceded his loss to DPP candidate Lin Chia-lung in Saturday's local polls, which saw 18 million people eligible to elect mayors and councilors for a record 11,130 seats across the island.

The DPP has retained its seat in the southern municipality of Tainan, with television counts showing the party also ahead in two of the remaining three municipalities.

New Taipei was the only one where the KMT kept a slight lead.

Fears of China

The mayoral elections have been widely seen as a litmus test of the confidence placed in the pro-Beijing government of Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou ahead of presidential elections due in early 2016.

Since the island introduced direct presidential elections in 1994, every Taiwanese president has been a former mayor of Taipei.

Policy toward China is likely to be a major issue at the 2016 election, amid increasing public anxiety over the Beijing's influence on the island, which separated politically from the mainland in 1949 after a civil war.

Enhanced relations

Beijing still claims the island as its territory and says it wants eventual reunification - by force if necessary.

Ma's rule since 2008 has seen a warming of what had been frosty relations between Taipei and Beijing, leading to growing concerns among some of the island's population that China could be tightening its grip.

glb/cb (Reuters, AFP, AP)