DPP Loses Seats in Taiwanese Elections; pro-LGBTQ Referendums Rejected

President Tsai Ing-wen (above) resigned as chair of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) following the elections

President Tsai Ing-wen (above) resigned as chair of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) following the elections

In the Taiwanese municipal elections on November 24, President Tsai Ing-wen’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) suffered steep losses to its rival, the China-friendly Kuomintang (KMT) party. According to South China Morning Post, following the electoral setback, Tsai announced she would step down as chair of the DPP, and Premier Lai Ching-te offered his resignation.

Since 2014, Taiwan has been broken into 22 administrative divisions: 13 counties, six special municipalities, and three cities. Prior to the 2018 elections, the DPP held an overwhelming majority of Taiwan’s administrative divisions with magisterial control of 13 cities and counties and four special municipalities. In the November municipal elections, however, the KMT flipped seven DPP-controlled administrative divisions: Taichung, Kaohsiung, Changhua, Yunlin, Chiayi City, Yilan, and Penghu. The KMT also flipped two divisions held by incumbent independents: Hualien and Kinmen. The number of DPP-controlled administrative divisions has fallen to just six as a result of the recent elections.

In 2016, the pro-independence DPP became the first party other than the KMT to gain control of the Legislative Yuan. Tsai also won the presidency for the DPP, becoming the second DPP member to ever hold the office after Chen Shui-bian, who served from 2000 to 2008.

Despite being a unitary democracy, the municipal elections were viewed by many to be a national vote of no confidence for Tsai’s administration and, more specifically, DPP policy regarding cross-strait relations. Wang Kung-yi, a political science professor at Chinese Culture University in Taipei, told South China Morning Post, “The results indicate the public are strongly dissatisfied with the performance of Tsai and used their ballots to teach her a lesson.”

Since 2016, Tsai’s administration and the DPP-controlled Legislative Yuan have sought pro-independence policies and become increasingly confrontational with China. South China Morning Post noted that Lai Ching-te became the first premier in Taiwan’s history to explicitly advocate for the island’s political independence from mainland China. As a result of the DPP’s explicit calls for independence, frustration developed among officials in Beijing, who continue to view Taiwan as part of mainland China. The Straits Times reported that “China has heaped pressure on Ms. Tsai” since she became president. According to South China Morning Post, the People’s Republic has suspended all exchanges with Taiwan since Tsai’s election.

“The DPP is at a crossroads: we will see whether there will be a more rational voice in the party to reflect its policy on relations with mainland China, but we shouldn’t build our hopes up too much. It reflects Taiwan’s hopes for peaceful relations across the strait, and it is going to have a positive and profound impact on cross-strait relations,” commented Yu Keli, a former director of the Taiwan Research Center at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, to South China Morning Post.

Other observers, however, feel that the elections were not necessarily a referendum on the DPP’s handling of cross-strait relations. In an interview with the Brookings Institution, Yu Ching-hsin, a distinguished research fellow at National Chengchi University’s Election Study Center in Taipei, highlighted “a strong anti-incumbent party tendency in Taiwan” and claimed that voters were more concerned with slowing economic growth. In fact, as noted by South China Morning Post, the results mirrored the 2014 municipal elections, where the KMT lost numerous administrative divisions in the wake of growing discontent over then-President Ma Ying-jeou’s governance.

Nevertheless, most observers view the elections as being a sign of waning support for the DPP rather than growing support for the KMT. “The KMT should not entertain the thought that it is the actual winner of the election. Rather, it won because voters were disappointed with the DPP and Tsai’s performance,” said Sun Da-chien, a former KMT legislator, to South China Morning Post.

Voters in the November elections also faced 12 referendum questions on topics including LGBTQ rights, energy policy, and Taiwan’s international nomenclature. In a blow to LGBTQ rights, voters rejected referendum questions that would have legalized same-sex marriage and added LGBTQ education to school curricula. Moreover, voters passed ballot questions proposed by conservative groups that restricted the legal definition of marriage to being between a man and a woman and prevented the Ministry of Education from implementing the Enforcement Rules for Gender Equity Education Act in public elementary and middle schools.

Another rejected referendum initiative of international significance would have mandated the use of the name Taiwan when competing in international sporting competitions. Taiwan has participated in all prior competitions under the name Chinese Taipei, a name that Taiwanese and mainland Chinese officials agreed on in 1981. According to South China Morning Post, the International Olympic Committee previously warned Taiwan that if the measure was passed, Taiwan risked being kicked out of future Olympic games.