While there was no clear victor in the elections, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) have more to celebrate than the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). Although the DPP will be disappointed that they didn’t pick up an extra mayoral seat, they did boost their overall vote and showed that they have a very good chance of winning the presidential election in 2012.
The election result also highlighted the north-south division in Taiwan politics. The DPP had easy victories in Tainan and Kaohsiung. While the KMT were able to maintain their base in Taipei and Xinbei. The KMT wins in these two cities came in the face of what were widely regarded as strong campaigns by the losing DPP candidates, Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) and Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文). It indicates the KMT still has a lot of “iron votes” in Taipei.
Surprisingly the closest election result was in Taichung. Jason Hu (胡志強), the incumbent KMT Mayor of Taichung, was widely expected to win comfortably, but in the end he beat the DPP’s Su Jia-chyuan (蘇嘉全) by a mere 30,000 votes. The close result was due to Su running a strong campaign and some local political factors which reduced the KMT’s support in Taichung County. The result has also raised Su’s status in the DPP and he is being talked about as a possible running mate for Tsai Ing-wen in the 2012 presidential election.
I think another important thing to note about the election is not just the north-south divide in Taiwan politics, but also a generational divide. The DPP made special efforts during the election campaign to encourage young people to vote. Their use of social media and music concerts were key parts of the campaign strategies, especially by Su Tseng-chang in Taipei and Tsai Ing-wen in Xinbei.
There was a voter turnout of more than 70% in all the cities, which is good for a local election in Taiwan. I would be interested to see if there are any figures on whether an increase in the number of young people voting contributed to the high turnout.
I think the generational divide also influenced the tone of the campaign. The election campaigns were largely focused on local issues and stayed cool on the issues of national identity and relations with China. Of course this was in a large part due to these elections being local. However, Taiwan’s demographics may have reached a tipping point where there are more votes to be won by appealing to the young who are not concerned with ethnic divisions. Playing the “ethnic card” might help mobilise older voters, but it actually causes many young people in Taiwan to turn away from politics.
A China Times editorial, translated by the Central News Agency (CNA), also highlights another issue related to generational change. The editorial says, “The outcome, however, signaled that the DPP has the talent to replace the older generation while the KMT has a talent gap, which is gradually spreading from southern Taiwan to the north.” The old guard still dominate in the KMT, while Tsai Ing-wen represents the next generation of leadership in the DPP.
Despite losing the election in Xinbei City Tsai Ing-wen seems to have held on to her position as the chairperson of the DPP. Her post election announcement shows her to be gracious in defeat, but also looking forward to the future. Some people have criticised Tsai for her lack of charisma and poor public speaking skills. However, she is politically smart and is sure to have learnt some important lessons from her campaign loss in Xinbei City. Today Tsai announced plans to establish a think tank to work on Taiwan-China relations. She is busily setting the agenda to ensure that the DPP maintains its momentum and also that she has the best chance of winning her party’s nomination for the presidential election in 2012.
While the KMT seems to lack younger people coming through into leadership positions, the victory of 49 year old Eric Chu (朱立倫) in Xinbei City confirmed his status as a rising star in the KMT. Expect to see a lot more of his face in the future. I would even go so far as to pencil him in as the KMT’s candidate for president in 2016.
However, right now the major contest is in 2012. It looks set to be fought between an unpopular and tired-looking Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and a resurgent DPP led by Tsai Ing-wen. It will also be a contest between a party that looks to its past and a party that is firmly focused on the future.