150,000 people gathered in front of Taipei City Hall on Sunday afternoon. Harley motorcycles, giant floats, balloons and mascots grace the parade to a soundtrack music banned in china, It looked like a concert, but the main role on this day was that of a politician.
The crowd was on hand to support Taipei mayoral candidate Chen Shih-chung, a former health minister from the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
Supporters enthusiastically waved flags and chanted “Win the election!” Screamed. One of Chen’s main rivals for the seat, which is considered a stepping stone to the presidency, is Chiang Wan-en.
Chiang claims to be the great-grandson of the Kuomintang (KMT) nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek, who ruled Taiwan for decades as a dictator after fleeing China at the end of the civil war. Polls show the race is tight.
The lively event was one of a series of rallies in the “golden week” ahead of Taiwan’s local elections on Saturday. Millions of people are expected to travel to their hometowns to vote for new leaders from the county level to village representatives.
The election, held every four years and described by some as “Taiwan’s midterm”, is a key test of support for the ruling DPP ahead of a presidential election in 2024 and China’s claim to the island has become the focus of the campaign.
The election will be the first national vote since China’s massive military escalation towards Taiwan, which it considers its territory and has vowed to take by force if necessary.
Beijing is in focus
Local elections have always focused on domestic issues such as social welfare, housing and energy. However, President Tsai Ing-wen and senior government officials have urged voters to use these elections to stand up against Beijing and show the world that Taiwan’s democracy will not bow to threats.
The KMT, the main opposition party, has traditionally been seen to favor closer ties with Beijing. While it strongly denies being pro-China, it has mostly avoided campaigning on China-related issues and focused on domestic issues.
Taiwanese premier Su Tseng-chang said in a recent interview, “The whole world is watching whether Taiwanese people will choose a pro-China political party, or a party that defends democracy and supports Taiwan’s sovereignty and independence.” “
All pro-independence party candidates, including Chen, have signed a pledge to make “no surrender” to China.
But analysts say the focus on cross-strait tensions, which boosted voter turnout and helped Tsai win back-to-back presidencies, is not connecting with a public that is more focused on the government’s domestic performance. Is.
“This election will show whether the DPP’s China threat is experiencing diminishing marginal returns over time,” said political scientist Wen-Tee Sung of the Australian National University.
“So far it has received a fair amount of indifference in the Taiwanese media, as it feels somewhat out of place to link Taiwan’s existence to township-level elections,” said Sung.
local issues matter
Recent polls have suggested that the opposition KMT is expected to win more local races than the DPP.
Jeremy Hui-che Chiang, an analyst in Taipei, said, “It’s not that the KMT is getting more support, but that KMT incumbents in some cities have popularity among their voters.”
“They campaign more on local issues rather than on Taiwan-China relations,” Chiang said.
The KMT has mocked the “no surrender” pledge and only two candidates are believed to have signed it.
“There is little direct correlation between cross-strait relations and Taiwan’s local elections,” said Shen Yu-chung, a professor of political science at Taiwan’s Tunghai University.
Shen said a KMT victory would not necessarily change policies in favor of Beijing.
Saturday’s vote also includes a referendum on a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at lowering the voting age from 20 to 18 for the first time. The proposal has angered Beijing. Young people in Taiwan are increasingly pro-independence and pro-democracy, with many running for local seats.
As those elected on Saturday will not be involved in the development of foreign policy, the DPP’s decision to campaign on China appears to be pure politics. But some voters seem to be impressed by this strategy.
Nini Chang, a voter, said local issues are intertwined with larger issues.
“The seats and functions of these people will also affect the operation and decision making of the parliament, the relations between Taiwan and the world [not only China] and cross-strait relations.
“Cross-strait relations are tense now… If we elect someone who has no political opinion or supports one country, two systems, we are unified by China first.”