THE Democratic Progressive Party (DPP 民进党) suffered a disastrous defeat in yesterday’s local elections, an outcome widely taken to be a no-confidence vote against President Chen Shui-bian (陈水扁).
The ruling party, which controlled nine constituencies previously and aimed to win 10 this time, could retain only six.
It lost traditional strongholds, including Taipei County and Ilan County, to the main opposition Kuomintang (KMT 国民党), which took 14 of the 23 constituencies.
The resounding win is a major boost for the KMT, which has its sights set on the 2008 presidential polls to bring it back to power.
The local race was closely watched because it was seen as a prelude to the 2008 polls and could have a bearing on cross-strait ties.
Beijing, which extended a series of goodwill gesture to Taiwan in recent months, is likely to view a KMT victory as an endorsement of its policy, say analysts.
China’s official Xinhua news agancy (新华社) carried reports on the election results late last night.
President Chen Shui-bian did not turn up at the DPP’s post-election conference last night.
Flanked by Premier Frank Hsieh (谢长庭) and other party heavyweights, party chairman Su Tseng-chang (苏贞昌) said: "This is a major defeat for the DPP. This is a warning fomr the people. We must reflect on ourselves."
He stepped down to take responsibility for the loss.
A Cabinet reshuffle could be imminent if Mr Hsieh is forced to quit as Premier as well.
With the political fate of Mr Su and Mr Hsieh now in question, it could affect the DPP’s nomination for the 2008 presidential race as both men are front runners for the candidacy.
At the KMT camp, celebrations started barely four hours after vote counting started at 4 pm.
"KMT did not defeat the DPP. DPP defeated itself," KMT chairman Ma Ying-jeou said. "But we shouldn’t waste time celebrating because there are still many problems and challenges ahead."
Analysts say the DPP’s stunning defeat signalled rising public dissatisfaction with its governance in the past five years.
"If the DPP had lost narrowly, the DPP could still argue that it is a local election and should not be linked to the central government," said Professor Philip Yang, director of the Taiwan Security Research Institute.
"But such a crushing defeat is definitely a vote of no-confidence," he told The Sunday Times.
The DPP swept to power in 2000 on a campaign promise to stamp out corruption, but had been dogged by corruption scandals recently.
"Many Taiwanese supported the DPP because we believed that Chen Shui-bian could do a better job than the KMT," said businessman Hu Shih-ming, 58.
"But Taiwan’s economy is in a bad shape… and the DPP is no longer the clean party we knew," said the former DPP supporter who voted for the KMT.
~ by Ong Hwee Hwee; The Sunday Times, December 4, 2005