Voters in self-ruled island reject plan to legalise same-sex marriage.

Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has suffered punishing losses in local elections in a boost for the China-friendly opposition, while voters also rejected plans to legalise same-sex marriage and a proposal to change the name of its Olympic team to Taiwan from the current Chinese Taipei.

The local elections were seen as a gauge of the popularity of President Tsai Ing-wen, who has had a strained relationship with Beijing since she was elected in 2016 because China believes that the DPP wants to push for independence.

Ms Tsai took responsibility for the electoral defeat and stepped down as chairwoman of the DPP.

The result is a major boost for the opposition Kuomintang (KMT), which won mayoral elections in Taiwan’s three largest cities – New Taipei City, Taichung and the southern port of Kaohsiung. The KMT took or retained control of 15 cities and counties, leaving the DPP with only six.

Deteriorating ties

In the run-up to the elections, Taiwanese officials accused China of meddling and promoting fake news but the scale of the defeat shows that voters were registering their unhappiness with deteriorating ties with China. Ms Tsai’s DPP has not acknowledged the “One China” policy that says Taiwan is part of China, unlike her KMT predecessor Ma Ying-jeou.

The KMT was once the ruling party in China but fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing the civil war to the Communist Party. Since then Taiwan has been self-ruled but China considers it a renegade province and makes regular threats to take it back by force should it try to declare independence.

Defeat in Kaohsiung was particularly bitter for the DPP as the city has long been a stronghold for the party.

The KMT’s mayor-elect in Kaohsiung, Han Kuo-yu, said he would reach out to China to improve relations. “We have no walls around our hearts,” Mr Han told local media.

Beijing’s spokesman on Taiwan affairs, Ma Xiaoguang, said the election results were a reflection of “the strong will of the public in Taiwan in sharing the benefits of the peaceful development across the Taiwan Strait, and desires to improve the island’s economy and people’s wellbeing”.

Liberal enclave

In an editorial, the mainland newspaper China Daily said “the Tsai administration . . . has drifted farther away from the practical needs of the Taiwan people, and the historical trends of recognising the ‘one China’ consensus”.

LGBTQ activists expressed disappointment at the rejection of the referendum on same-sex marriage, which means marriage as defined in the civil code remains as a union between a man and a woman. Taiwan has a reputation as a liberal enclave in Asia, and it is possible that same-sex unions could be legalised through the passing of new legislation in parliament.

Taiwan’s first openly gay council members were elected as councillors in the polls.

Voters also rejected a referendum that would have seen the island join the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as Taiwan, rather than “Chinese Taipei”, a move that was sure to sour relations with Beijing further.

By Clifford Coonan
Irish Times

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