Taiwan president quits as party chair after local election setback

Tsai said the DPP would reflect on the defeat, but she vowed to press on. (Reuters)
Updated 24 November 2018
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Taiwan president quits as party chair after local election setback

  • The results of the polls, being held just over a year before Taiwan’s next presidential election, are likely to please China
  • The DPP has now been left in control of only six of Taiwan’s cities and counties, compared with at least 15 for the Kuomintang

TAIPEI: Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen resigned as chairwoman of the ruling pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) after it suffered a major electoral defeat on Saturday, losing two of the island’s most important city posts in mayoral elections.
The results of the polls, being held just over a year before Taiwan’s next presidential election, are likely to please China, which claims self-ruled and proudly democratic Taiwan as its own and has ramped up pressure on Tsai and her administration since she took office in 2016.
In the run-up to the elections, Tsai and her government said repeatedly that China was trying to sway voters with “political bullying” and “fake news,” accusations that Beijing denied.
The DPP lost control of the mayoralties in Taiwan’s second-most populous city Taichung and the key battleground of Kaohsiung in the south, which it held for two decades and played a central role in Taiwan’s pro-democracy movement in the 1970s.
Both were won by the China-friendly opposition, the Kuomintang, which once ruled China before fleeing to Taiwan at the end of a civil war with the Communists in 1949.
Tsai said the DPP would reflect on the defeat, but she vowed to press on.
“Continuing reforms, freedom and democracy, and protecting the country’s sovereignty are the mission that the DPP won’t abandon,” she told reporters.
She said she would not accept the resignation of her premier William Lai, who had offered to quit earlier in the evening.

“Tragic defeat“

The DPP has now been left in control of only six of Taiwan’s cities and counties, compared with at least 15 for the Kuomintang.
The party held on in two of its other strongholds, however, keeping Tainan in the south and Taoyuan in the north.
“This is a tragic defeat for the DPP,” Yao Chia-wen, a senior adviser to the president, told Reuters.
“But this is not support for the Kuomintang from the people. This is the people’s disappointment in the DPP,” he said, citing slower-than-expected initiatives that have drawn criticism including pension and justice reforms.
Votes were still being counted in Taiwan’s affluent capital Taipei, where the incumbent mayor Ko Wen-je, an independent, is in a close race with the Kuomintang’s Ting Shou-chung, and the DPP is running a distant third.
Kaohsiung’s Kuomintang mayor-elect, Han Kuo-yu, who described the city as “outdated and poor” while on the campaign trail, told a rally he would go all-out to boost its economy.
“We must immediately roll up our sleeves and get to work,” Han said, speaking of what was once one of the world’s busiest ports but which has lost much of its business to China.
There was no immediate reaction from Beijing to the poll results, where state media simply noted Tsai’s resignation as party chairwoman “to take responsibility for the party’s performance in Taiwan’s local elections.”
A spokesperson for the US State Department praised Taiwan for “demonstrating the strength of their vibrant democratic system through a successful round of elections.”

High turnout

Taiwan television stations reported a high turnout, with some polling stations in parts of Taipei and Kaohsiung remaining open past 4 p.m (0800 GMT) when the polls were due to close.
Candidates fanned out across the island to shake hands and canvass votes, and held noisy, colorful rallies that have become the hallmarks of Taiwan’s vibrant democracy, in marked contrast to China where the Communist Party tolerates no dissent to its rule.
Tensions across the Taiwan Strait have heightened, with China conducting military drills around the island and snatching away Taiwan’s dwindling number of diplomatic allies.
Tsai’s domestic reform initiatives, from the island’s pension scheme to labor law, have also come under intense voter scrutiny recently.
Confidence in the government has waned in recent months after reform moves upset both the opposition and some supporters, who said Tsai had backed away from promises to reduce the deficit and cut pollution.
Underscoring Tsai’s challenge are a series of public votes also held on Saturday on whether to make same-sex marriage legal, an issue which has deeply divided Taiwan.
Voters looked set to back a referendum defining marriage as between and a man and a woman, dealing a sharp blow to Taiwan’s position as a bastion of liberalism in Asia.
Tsai has made little progress despite campaigning on a promise of marriage equality in the run-up to elections in 2016.
In Asia’s first such ruling, Taiwan’s constitutional court declared in May last year that same-sex couples had the right to legally marry, and set a two-year deadline for legalization.
Voters were also asked whether the island should join the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as Taiwan, rather than “Chinese Taipei” – the name agreed under a compromise signed in 1981.
A vote to compete under a Taiwan banner would further rile Beijing, which has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control.
That referendum appeared to have been blocked, with most people voting against re-naming Taiwan’s Olympic team.
Final results for all the referendum votes are not expected until early on Sunday, according to election officials. 


French police prepare for fifth wave of yellow vest protests

Updated 14 December 2018
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French police prepare for fifth wave of yellow vest protests

PARIS: France will deploy tens of thousands of police nationwide and around 8,000 in Paris on Saturday to handle a fifth weekend of ‘yellow vest’ protests, although the movement appears to be losing steam after concessions by President Emmanuel Macron.
The chief of police in Paris said concerns remained about violent groups infiltrating the protests. Anti-riot officers will protect landmarks such as the Arc de Triomphe and prevent people getting close to the presidential palace.
“We need to be prepared for worst-case scenarios,” police chief Michel Delpuech told RTL radio.
He expected businesses in the capital to be less affected this weekend after heavy disruption over the past three weeks when major stores shut, hotels suffered cancelations and tourists stayed away during the usually busy run-up to Christmas.
Nicknamed “Acte V” of the protests, the yellow vest demonstrators will take to the streets this weekend as France recovers from an unrelated attack on a Christmas market in the eastern city of Strasbourg on Tuesday, when a gunman shot and killed three people and wounded several others.
Hundreds of police officers were redeployed to Strasbourg to search for the gunman, who was shot dead in an exchange of fire on Thursday evening.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said it was time for the yellow vests to scale down their protests and accept they had achieved their aims. Police officers also deserved a break, he added.
“I’d rather have the police force doing their real job, chasing criminals and combating the terrorism threat, instead of securing roundabouts where a few thousand people keep a lot of police busy,” he said.
TOLL ON THE ECONOMY
Attractions such as the Louvre museum and Opera Garnier will be open this weekend, as will luxury department stores like Galeries Lafayette and Printemps. Last Saturday they were closed as thousands of sometimes violent protesters tore through the city. The previous weekend the Arc de Triomphe was vandalized, cars were overturned and torched and businesses smashed up.
The protests have taken a toll on the economy, with output in the last quarter of the year set to be half initial projections, while Macron’s concessions are likely to push the budget deficit above an EU agreed limit.
The yellow vest movement, which began as a protest against fuel taxes and then grew into an anti-Macron alliance, appears to have calmed since the president announced a series of measures to help the working poor.
However, many people wearing the high-visibility motorists’ safety jackets which are the symbol of the protests were manning barricades outside cities on Friday.
After heavy criticism for not being seen to respond to the protesters’ complaints, Macron made a TV address this week during which he said he understood their concerns and acknowledged the need for a different approach.
As well canceling fuel tax increases that were due to kick in next month, Macron said he would increase the minimum wage by 100 euros a month from January and reduce taxes for poorer pensioners, among other measures.
Since the first yellow vest protests on Nov. 17, supporters have kept up a steady stream of dissent, although the numbers joining marches have steadily fallen. ($1 = 0.8857 euros)