Taiwanese head to polls in midterm elections, largest referendums

Taiwanese began to cast their votes on Saturday to elect local officials, with the outcome possibly affecting the remainder of President Tsai Ing-wen’s four-year term through May 2020. Voters will also cast ballots on 10 referendums.

Dubbed the most extensive elections in Taiwan’s history, about 19 million eligible voters will elect more than 11,000 local officials.

In all, nine categories of elected office, ranging from big city mayors and county magistrates to village chiefs and borough wardens, are up for grabs in what is commonly known as the «nine-in-one» elections.

However, as vast as the elections are, most eyes are on four of the special municipal districts where the outcomes are far from certain and highly significant.

While the mayoral races in Taoyuan and Greater Tainan are widely expected to go to the candidates of Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party, polls show those in Taipei, New Taipei, Greater Taichung and Greater Kaoshiung are in a dead heat going into the election.

If those four go to the main opposition Nationalist Party (KMT), that would represent a major setback for the DPP.

Before the elections, the DPP controlled four special municipal districts and nine smaller cities and counties, while the KMT controlled only one special municipal district and five smaller cities and counties.

In Taipei, the capital, incumbent Mayor Ko Wen-je is fighting an uphill battle in a five-way race against his main opponents — Ting Shou-chung of the KMT and Pasuya Yao of the DPP. A political independent, Ko won the 2014 election with the backing of the DPP, which decided to field its own candidate this time around.

In New Taipei, KMT mayoral candidate Hou You-yi hopes to retain the only special municipal district his party controlled before the elections, while DPP contender Su Tseng-chang seeks to reclaim the top job he held from 1997 to 2005.

In Greater Taichung, incumbent Mayor Lin Chia-lung is running head-to-head with his KMT rival Lu Shiow-yen, who quit her position as state legislator just days before the elections seeking to boost her chances in the balloting.

KMT Kaohsiung mayoral candidate Han Kuo-yu has been gaining steam since September, evoking what is called the «Han wave.» The last time a KMT candidate was elected the mayor of the island’s second largest city was 1994.

Han’s increasing popularity forced Chen to adjust his campaign strategy including quitting his position as state legislator. His opponents are attributing the sudden surge to «outside forces,» referring to China.

While filling so many positions is unlikely to change Taiwan’s political scene overnight, the results of Saturday’s local elections are seen by Tsai’s DPP and KMT as a prelude to the 2020 presidential and legislative elections.

In addition to electing more than 11,000 local officials, voters will vote on 10 referendums, including one initiated by the KMT to maintain a seven-year ban on food imports from five Japanese prefectures imposed after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The referendums are the first since the voting age on such initiatives was lowered from 20 to 18, and the largest number ever put to a vote on a single day.

Voting stations opened at 8 a.m. and will close at 4 p.m. Results of the elections will be known Saturday night, while those of the referendums will be known early Sunday morning.

All — Kyodo News+

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