Polls opened in Taiwan on Saturday as part of local elections that President Tsai Ing-wen has described as a message to the world about the island’s determination to defend its democracy amid China’s mounting warmongering.
Local elections for mayors, district heads and local councils are ostensibly about domestic issues such as the Covid-19 pandemic and crime, and those elected have no direct say in China policy.
But Tsai has reframed the election as more than just a local poll, saying the world is watching as Taiwan defends its democracy amid military tensions with China, which claims the island as its territory.
China held war games near Taiwan in August to vent its anger over a visit to Taipei by then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and its military activities continued, albeit on a reduced scale.
Taiwan’s main opposition party, the Kuomintang, or KMT, won the 2018 local elections and has accused Tsai and the DPP of being overly confrontational with China. The KMT has traditionally advocated closer ties with China, but staunchly denies being pro-Beijing.
The election comes a month after the end of the 20th Chinese Communist Party Congress, at which President Xi Jinping secured an unprecedented third term – a point Tsai has repeatedly stressed during the campaign.
While the outcome of the election will be an important gauge of popular support for both parties, it cannot necessarily be read as a portent for the next presidential and parliamentary elections in 2024.
Tsai and the DPP strongly defeated the KMT in 2020 despite their setback in the 2018 local elections. Her second term expires in 2024 and she cannot run for president again due to term limits.
Both parties have focused their efforts on prosperous and populous northern Taiwan, particularly the capital Taipei, whose current mayor from the small People’s Party of Taiwan is unable to run for office after two terms.
Elections in Taiwan are noisy and colorful affairs, with candidates driving around their constituencies on trucks and SUVs seeking support while music blares and election flags flutter.
There is also a vote to lower the voting age from 20 to 18, which both parties support.
The election result should be available early Saturday evening.