Taiwan’s Local Elections: What kind of Future?

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The last of the four-year local elections in Taiwan was held on 26 November 2022. Dubbed the “9-in-1” elections, voters selected candidates including mayors of 16 provinces, mayors of 6 special municipalities, council members, and lower-level local administrators. Candidates of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the main opposition Nationalist Party (Kuomintang or KMT), and smaller parties, such as the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) and the New Power Party (NPP), participated in the elections.[1]

As shown in Map 1, the opposition party KMT emerged victorious, winning several major constituencies, including the capital Taipei.[2] While it is estimated that the DPP, which received great support from the public with a rate of 57,1% in the general elections in 2020, will win the local elections; the elections resulted in the victory of the KMT.

Map 1. Territories won by KMT (Blue) and DPP (Green).[3]

Local election results are not just the determination of whether the candidates of the competing parties left with the victory; it also contains clues about the future direction of Taiwan and the 2024 Presidential Elections. Within the scope of the election results, the attitudes of the two parties (DPP and KMT) that stand out and how Taiwan will follow in terms of both domestic and foreign policy are very important.

As it is known, the establishment of the KMT dates from the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. After the transition from the Chinese Empire to the Republic of China in 1912, the KMT, founded by Sun Yat Sen, left the mainland in 1949 because of internal conflicts with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and continued its activities in Taiwan. During its rule, the KMT instilled in the local people in Taiwan the view that China is their homeland, and this situation played a role in keeping the Chinese identity alive on the island.[4] From this point of view, it is possible to say that the KMT has not been conscious of establishing an independent country in Taiwan since the moment it started to work in Taiwan; on the contrary, KMT acted to take China under its control again. Therefore, a separatist approach towards becoming an independent country and creating a Taiwanese identity has not developed on the island.

Towards the end of the 1980s, with the steps taken towards democratization in Taiwan and the new parties that emerged, new politicians began to develop “Taiwan consciousness.” Since the mid-1990s, being “Taiwanese” has become an alternative to “Chinese consciousness.” Established in 1986, the DPP played an important role in the emergence of such an approach. The rivalry and two different perspectives between the DPP and the KMT reached its climax with DPP’s Chen Shui-bian, who served as chairman between 2000 and 2008.[5]

The reflections of this competition, which started in the past, continue today. It is seen that at the campaigns of the DPP and KMT on the way to the 2022 local elections, while the DPP stands out with its strongly pro-independence identity; the KMT draws attention with its stance in favour of maintaining friendly relations with China. KMT leader Eric Chu said, “We advocate being close to the United States (US), being friendly with Japan, and making peace with the mainland (China)”[6] and DPP leader Tsai Ing-Wen said, “Taiwan is facing strong external pressure. The spread of Chinese authoritarianism compels the Taiwanese people to commit to freedom and democracy every day,”[7] which reflects the political approaches of the KMT and DPP.

In these local elections in Taiwan, the people preferred the KMT. So, how will this result find reflections in both domestic and foreign policy? First, looking at domestic politics, it is seen that the tension between China and Taiwan escalated both based on discourse and action during the DPP’s rule. For example, in 2022, Chinese warplanes violated Taiwan’s airspace for a total of 199 days.[8] Also in the same year, Chinese People’s Liberation Army Spokesperson Wu Qian claimed that Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party authority’s separatist activities and collusion with external forces are the root cause of the current tension and disturbance in the Taiwan Strait.[9]

When the elections, which have generally been held in recent years, are examined, it is seen that the tension between China and Taiwan and Beijing’s attitude caused the voters in Taiwan to vote for the DPP. However, in the local elections in 2022, the opposite picture was encountered. Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-Wen, who stood out with the words “The election is as a vote for democracy amid rising tensions with China,” resigned from the DPP presidency after his bad results in the local elections, is an indication that the DPP did not expect to face such a picture.[10] When evaluated in terms of domestic politics, the fact that the KMT won the elections can be interpreted as the island’s people wanting to get away from the tensions with China and favouring the use of dialogue channels to solve the problem. Sarah Wu and Yimou Lee summarized this election result by saying, “China threat bet fails to win votes.”[11]

Although the 2022 local elections are seen as hope for the KMT for the 2024 general elections, it is possible to encounter different results. As can be seen, the DPP, which came out with a great victory in the general elections in 2020, could not emerge with the same victory in the 2022 local elections.[12] Therefore, the competition between the DPP and the KMT will increase even more while going to the 2024 general elections. Tsai’s words, “We don’t have time to feel sorry. We fell, but we will stand up again”[13], revealed the ambition of the DPP. On the other hand, election victory has revived the KMT’s hopes of victory for the future.

As a result, although the KMT won the local elections, the presidency is still in the hands of the leader of the DPP, Tsai. In addition, most of the parliament is in the DPP. Therefore, DPP still has an active role in shaping foreign policy. In this context, it is foreseen that a foreign policy will be followed to continue the tension in relations with China, to develop diplomatic relations with all other states, especially the US, to continue their attempts to become a part of the international community and to increase political and economic ties with the countries in the region. However, the defeat of the DPP in the 2022 local elections may also cause the party’s foreign policy stance towards China to soften.

[1] “Taiwan’s 2022 Local Elections: The State of Electoral Campaigns”, Taiwan Insight, (Date of Accession: 26.11.2022).

[2] “Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen Quits as Party Chair After Local Elections”, BBC News, (Date of Accession: 27.11.2022).

[3] “Who Won Taiwan’s Midterm Election?”, The New Lens, (Date of Accession: 27.11.2022).

[4] T. Y. Wang, “Changing Boundaries: The Development of the Taiwan Voters’ Identity”, The Taiwan Voter (Eds: Christopher H. Achen and T. Y. Wang), ABD: University of Michigan Press, 2017, p. 51.

[5] Wang, op.cit., p.52.

[6] “Tayvan Halkı Yerel Seçimler İçin Sandık Başında”, CNN Türk,, (Date of Accession: 27.11.2022).

[7] Ibid.

[8] Süleyman Özmen, “Çin Halk Cumhuriyeti’nin Tayvan Politikası ve Bu Politikanın Dünya Siyasetinde Önemi”, MANAS Sosyal Araştırmalar Dergisi, 11 (3), 2022, p. 1311.

[9] “Chinese Military Spokesperson Vows Zero Tolerance for ‘Taiwan independence’ Separatist Acts”, Xinhua, (Date of Accession: 27.11.2022).

[10] BBC News, op.cit.

[11] Taiwan President Quits as Party Head After China Threat Bet Fails to Win Votes”, Reuters, (Date of Accession: 27.11.2022).

[12] “Taiwan’s Ruling Democratic Progressive Party Likely to Face Defeat at Local Elections: Observers”, Channel News Asia, (Date of Accession: 26.11.2022).

[13] “Taiwan President Quits…”, op.cit.

Neslihan TOPCU
Neslihan Topcu, 2017 yılında Adnan Menderes Üniversitesi Siyaset Bilimi ve Kamu Yönetimi bölümünden mezun olmuş ve ardından aynı üniversitenin Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda yüksek lisans eğitimine başlamıştır. Yüksek lisans derecesini elde ettiği “Çin’in Enerji Güvenliği Politikaları” başlıklı tezi, 2020 yılında kitap olarak da yayınlanmıştır. 2016 senesinde Litvanya’daki Kazimieras Simonavičius Üniversitesi’nde ve 2019 yılında da Portekiz’deki Minho Üniversitesi’nde eğitim alan Topçu, halihazırda Selçuk Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda doktora eğitimine devam etmektedir. Asya Pasifik, enerji güvenliği ve devletlerin uzay politikalarıyla ilgili çalışmaları çeşitli dergilerde ve kitaplarda yayınlanmış olan Topçu, iyi derecede İngilizce ve orta seviyede İspanyolca bilmektedir.