TAIPEI, Nov 26 (Reuters) – Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen resigned as head of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) on Saturday after its strategy of spoofing local elections to show defiance of China’s rising belligerence failed. paid off and gained public support.
Elections for mayors, provincial leaders and municipal councilors will ostensibly address domestic issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic and crime, and those elected will not have a direct say in Chinese policy.
But Tsai recast the election as more than a local vote, saying the world is watching Taiwan defend its democracy amid military tensions with China, which claims the island as its territory.
The main opposition party, the Kuomintang, or KMT, led or claimed victory in 13 of the 21 mayor and county chief seats up for grabs, including the capital Taipei, compared to the DPP’s five, largely in line with expectations and similar to the results of the last local elections in 2018.
“The results exceeded our expectations. We humbly accept the results and accept the decision of the Taiwanese people,” Tsai told reporters at party headquarters as she stepped down as party leader, which she did after the poor results of 2018.
“It’s not like the DPP has never failed before,” added Tsai, who will remain president until 2024. “We have no time to feel sorry. We have fallen, but we will rise again.”
Tsai said she turned down an offer of resignation from Prime Minister Su Tseng-chang, also a senior DPP member, adding that she had asked him to remain in office to ensure her policies were properly implemented.
The cabinet said Su had agreed to stay because of the need for stability amid the “tough” domestic and international situation.
China’s response was muted, with the official Xinhua news agency simply reporting Tsai’s resignation “to take responsibility for the party’s performance in Taiwan’s local elections.”
Both the DPP and the KMT, which traditionally have close ties with China but strongly deny being pro-Beijing, had concentrated their campaign efforts in Taiwan’s prosperous and populous northern region, particularly in Taipei, where the mayor of the small Taiwanese People’s Party because of term limits.
The KMT has accused Tsai and the DPP of being overly confrontational with China and smearing the party for being “red” — a reference to the Chinese Communist Party’s colors.
It focused its campaign on criticism of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially after a spate of cases this year.
KMT Chairman Eric Chu celebrated their victory, but said they would also protect Taiwan’s freedoms.
“We will insist on defending the Republic of China and protecting democracy and freedom,” he told reporters, using Taiwan’s official name. “We will also work hard to maintain regional peace.”
China staged war games near Taiwan in August to express its anger at a visit to Taipei by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and its military activities continued, albeit on a smaller scale.
The elections came a month after the 20th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, where President Xi Jinping secured an unprecedented third term in office – a point Tsai made repeatedly during his campaign.
Attention now turns to the 2024 presidential and legislative elections, which Tsai and the DPP won in a landslide victory in 2020 on a pledge to stand up to China and defend Taiwan’s freedoms.
Tsai is in her second term and cannot run for re-election as president due to term restrictions.
Reporting by Sarah Wu and Yimou Lee; Written by Ben Blanchard; Adapted by Gerry Doyle, William Mallard, Edmund Klamann, Mark Heinrich, Kirsten Donovan
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