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. 


Japan’s ruling coalition secures upper house majority

Updated 7 min 32 sec ago
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Japan’s ruling coalition secures upper house majority

  • “I believe the people chose political stability, urging us to pursue our policies and carry out diplomacy to protect Japan’s national interests,” Abe said

TOKYO: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling coalition secured a majority in Japan’s upper house of parliament in elections Sunday but will not reach the super-majority needed to propose constitutional revisions, according to vote counts by public television and other media.
NHK public television said shortly after midnight that Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and its junior partner Komeito had won 69 seats in the upper house, with nine seats remaining. If Abe gained support from members of another conservative party and independents, it would make only 76 seats, short of 85 he would have needed, NHK said.
Abe’s ruling bloc already has a two-thirds majority in the lower house, but without such control of the upper chamber, he has a slim chance of achieving his long-cherished goal of constitutional reform.
Nonetheless, Abe welcomed the results, saying winning a majority indicates a public mandate for his government.
“I believe the people chose political stability, urging us to pursue our policies and carry out diplomacy to protect Japan’s national interests,” Abe said in an interview with NHK.
Abe hopes to gain enough seats to boost his chances to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution — his long-cherished goal before his term ends in 2021.
But it’s a challenge because voters are more concerned about their jobs, economy and social security. Abe, who wants to bolster Japan’s defense capability, is now proposing adding the Self-Defense Force, or Japan’s military, to the war-renouncing Article 9 of the constitution. He said he is not considering running for another term.
Abe said resolving the decades-old issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea and signing a peace treaty with Russia would be his diplomatic priorities during the rest of his term.
Opposition parties have focused on concerns over household finances, such as the impact from an upcoming 10% sales tax increase and strains on the public pension system amid Japan’s aging population.
Abe has led his Liberal Democratic Party to five consecutive parliamentary election victories since 2012.
He has prioritized revitalizing Japan’s economy and has steadily bolstered the country’s defenses in the backdrop of North Korea’s missile and nuclear threats and China’s growing military presence. He also has showcased his diplomatic skills by cultivating warm ties with President Donald Trump.
Abe needs approval by a two-thirds majority in both houses to propose a constitutional revision and seek a national referendum. His ruling bloc has a two-thirds majority in the more powerful lower house.
The main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and three other liberal-leaning parties teamed up in some districts. They stressed support for gender equality and LGBT issues — areas Abe’s ultra-conservative lawmakers are reluctant to back.
At a polling station in Tokyo’s Chuo district on Sunday, voters were divided over Abe’s 6 1/2-year rule.
A voter who identified himself only as a company worker in his 40s said he chose a candidate and a party that have demonstrated an ability to get things done, suggesting he voted for Abe’s ruling party and its candidate, as “there is no point in casting my vote for a party or a politician who has no such abilities.”
Another voter, Katsunori Takeuchi, a 57-year-old fish market worker, said it was time to change the dominance of Abe and his ultra-conservative policies.
“I think the ruling party has been dominating politics for far too long and it is causing damage,” he said.