Yesterday's mayoral elections in Taiwan were seen as a referendum on the political future of President Chen Shui-bian and his Democratic Progressive Party, rocked by a series of scandals which have hit him, his family and cabinet in the past year. Analysts had expected voters to vent their anger by voting for the opposition Kuomintang. As ballots were counted last night, however, it was apparent the DPP remains a formidable political machine. And despite the stains on him, Mr Chen is still a powerful crowd-puller. Indeed, it was as if nothing of lasting effect had happened to alter the island's north-south political divide. In Taipei, the Kuomintang's Hau Lung-bin succeeded in maintaining the party's control of its traditional stronghold. As expected, he defeated the DPP's Frank Hsieh Chang-ting by a comfortable margin. Yet it was a sweet defeat for Mr Hsieh, as his share of the vote was 5 percentage points higher than that of the DPP candidate four years ago. In Kaohsiung, the DPP was able to hold on to its established power base. Although Chen Chu beat her KMT rival Huang Chun-ying by only 1,114 votes, what mattered was that she won at all. More significantly, she had won with last-minute backing from Mr Chen. The president's wife has been charged with corruption, and prosecutors said they would have indicted him too, had he not enjoyed immunity from prosecution. Initially there were fears that Mr Chen was such a liability he was not asked to show up on the campaign trail. Mr Hsieh, who was fighting a losing battle in Taipei, even said he was prepared to ask the president to step down if Mr Chen's wife was found guilty. Yet when polls suggested that the KMT candidate was leading in Kaohsiung, Mr Chen was enlisted to help Ms Chen's struggling campaign. In speech after speech, Mr Chen homed in on the theme that the DPP stands for an independent Taiwan, free from the mainland. It is a tactic that has worked in the past, and Mr Chen has shown that it still works. Perhaps the DPP's supporters felt that the party had already been punished adequately, and that they could not afford to let it dip further. After all, the DPP had suffered a landslide defeat in local elections last year. Its share of the vote dropped to 41.95 per cent, down from 45.3 per cent in 2001, and the number of cities and counties it controlled fell from 10 to six. Despite the importance attached to yesterday's polls and the high intensity of the campaigns, there was a five-point drop in the turnout in both Taipei and Kaohsiung. The reasons for the drop awaits further analysis. But it appears that more of Taiwan's voters have been turned off by the muckraking that has become a standard feature of the island's election campaigns. That included the allegations against KMT chairman Ma Ying-jeou, whose staff were found to have bent the rules in accounting on expenses for public affairs. The most important implication of the results of yesterday's polls is that it has shored up Mr Chen's standing within the DPP. By helping Ms Chen to win against the odds, he has shown that he still enjoys considerable support among the DPP's core supporters. He will be able to use that to his advantage. Barring another scandal that directly implicates him, any further attempts to unseat him are doomed. By contrast, Mr Ma's standing in the KMT may have suffered as a result of the party's relatively poor performance. The results are a blow to Mr Ma's intention to run for president in 2008. Meanwhile, Mr Chen's success in hanging on to power is likely to mean more stormy waters in the Taiwan Strait. In the rest of his term he is expected to make another frantic push to further the DPP's independence agenda. As Beijing gears up to host the Olympics in 2008, its ability to tackle Mr Chen's provocations will be put to the test.