Taiwan Life in Brief – April 2019

Vice President-elect Lai

DPP Retains 2 Seats In By-elections

Following the thrashing of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the municipal elections in November at the hands of the Kuomintang (KMT), the DPP managed a slight comeback in by-elections for four vacant seats in mid-March. It retained two seats in electorates in New Taipei City and Tainan City, while the KMT retained one in Changhua County and lost one in the outlying archipelago of Kinmen County to an independent. The election results brought the total number of DPP lawmakers to 68 in the 113-seat Legislative Yuan, the same level as immediately after the 2016 legislative elections.

Former Premier Challenges Tsai

After the November election drubbing, President Tsai Ing-wen’s approval ratings in several polls plunged badly, falling beneath 30%, but she announced in mid-February that she would still run for another term in the presidential election on January 11. Last month, however, a surprise challenge to her re-nomination came from her former premier, Lai Ching-te, a relatively more vocal supporter of Taiwan independence.

Both Lai, a former mayor of Tainan, and Tsai have registered for the DPP primary. The process calls for the two candidates to give televised presentations of their platforms. The party will then conduct an opinion poll sampling the entire electorate, with the more popular candidate winning the nomination without a party vote. Lai is one of the nation’s most popular politicians and consistently polls better than Tsai. The winner will be announced April 24.

Lai’s entrance into the race caused some KMT politicians to express concern, while some independence hardliners in the DPP, impatient with Tsai’s pragmatic stance towards China, were jubilant. Still, several of the party’s most senior officials rallied firmly behind Tsai and nearly all major DPP figures called for unity, fearing that a split between supporters of Lai and Tsai would weaken the party. A five-member DPP committee was appointed to broker an agreement between the pair, such as Lai’s dropping out of the presidential contest to instead be Tsai’s vice-presidential running mate. Although such speculation was heightened when incumbent vice president Chen Chien-jen announced that he would not be seeking reelection, as of press time Lai was showing no signs of backing down.

As for the KMT, former New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu and former Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng have declared interest in being the party’s presidential standard-bearer, but the party is not expected to name its presidential candidate until late July or August. Some analysts say that other potential candidates – possibly including the independent mayor of Taipei, Ko Wen-je – may hold off on a decision until they know whether they would be competing against Lai or Tsai.