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Kuomintang supporters at a rally in Taipei. Photo: EPA-EFE

Twin poll blows for Taiwan’s KMT spark doubts about leadership ahead of wider votes

  • Defeats in Taichung by-election and Taipei recall vote threaten opposition party’s chances in November and spark strong criticism of leader Eric Chu
  • KMT leadership seen to have erred in political judgment and electoral strategies, compared to all-out approach of the ruling DPP
Defeats at two key polls have dealt a blow to Taiwan’s main opposition party, threatening its chances in local government elections later this year.
The Kuomintang’s by-election and recall vote losses on Sunday also seriously dented the popularity of its recently re-elected chairman Eric Chu Li-luan, with party members questioning his ability to lead.

In the legislative by-election in the central city of Taichung, the KMT’s Yen Kuan-heng lost to his ruling Democratic Progressive Party rival despite the long-standing influence of his family in the constituency.

Lin Ching-yi, a former DPP legislator-at-large, won nearly 51.5 per cent of the votes cast, against about 47 per cent for Yen.

Lin Ching-yi (second left) with supporters including President Tsai Ing-wen in Taichung. Photo: Facebook

The KMT also failed to win enough votes in the recall poll it initiated to oust independent legislator Freddy Lim in Taipei’s fifth electoral district.

Lim survived after the KMT’s motion garnered 54,813 votes, just short of the required threshold of 58,756, even though the rock singer – who won the 2020 legislative election with more than 81,000 votes – was only able to get the support of 43,340 voters.

The defeats come just a month after the largely mainland-friendly KMT lost to the DPP in a referendum on local issues, prompting party members to question the leadership of Chu, a former New Taipei mayor who was re-elected chairman in late September.

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Chu’s Facebook page was also inundated with scornful comments from KMT supporters strongly dissatisfied with the series of defeats suffered since he took office in October.

Some urged him to take responsibility and step down, while others called for former Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu to take over. The KMT head office was also flooded with similar calls from supporters, according to the party.

“This not only hurts the prestige of the party chairman but will also weaken his leadership in the party,” said a KMT official who declined to be identified.

The official said the results of last month’s referendum and the recent polls showed the KMT leadership had made errors in its political judgment as well as electoral strategies and approaches.

Eric Chu waves to supporters after winning the chairmanship of the Kuomintang. Photo: Reuters

“The KMT local government leaders might choose to distance themselves from the party central in the year-end elections, out of concerns that the party might not be able to lead them to victory,” the official said, referring to local government elections in November.

Observers said unlike the DPP which had treated both votes on Sunday as general elections, the KMT chose not to get too heavily involved.

“The KMT not only did not make great efforts in its propaganda to solicit supporters but also failed to mobilise its political assets in support of the polls,” said Wang Yeh-lih, a professor of political science at the National Chengchi University in Taipei.

In contrast, the DPP mobilised all its resources, including having its chairwoman, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, and other government leaders stump for the two candidates, Wang said.

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But KMT spokesman Ling Tao blasted the DPP for “employing state apparatus” to get involved in local polls, calling it unfair to the opposition.

He also said the by-election and recall vote were local polls where the KMT should play the role of assisting local voters rather than stepping in to dominate all matters.

“As 2022 begins, the KMT will focus on the year-end local government elections and continue the fight, so that voters can eventually remove the peremptory ruling party in the 2024 presidential election,” Ling said.