Taipei. Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen resigned as chairwoman of the ruling pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party on Saturday after it suffered a major electoral setback, losing two of the island’s most important posts in mayoral elections.
The results of the polls, being held a little more than a year ahead of Taiwan’s next presidential elections, will be closely watched in China, which claims self-ruled and proudly democratic Taiwan as its own and which has ramped up pressure on Tsai and her administration since taking office in 2016.
In the run-up to the elections, Tsai and her government repeatedly said China was attempting to sway election results with its “political bullying” and “fake news”, accusations that Beijing denied.
But 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 had 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 would not 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.
The DPP held on in two of its other strongholds though: Tainan in the island’s 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 are 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.
There was no immediate reaction from China to the election results.