Taiwanese began voting Saturday in local elections, with the results seen as a prelude to the 2024 presidential and legislative polls, while voters are also casting ballots in a referendum.
About 19 million voters will elect more than 11,000 local officials. In all, nine categories of elected office, ranging from mayors of six special municipal districts and smaller cities to county magistrates, are up for grabs in what is commonly known as the “nine-in-one” elections.
The results of the races among the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, the China-friendly opposition Nationalist Party (KMT) and other parties could affect the administration of independence-minded President Tsai Ing-wen amid increasing Chinese pressure, though the top issues in the elections are domestic.
Most eyes are on the special municipal districts where the outcomes are significant. Ahead of the elections, the DPP controlled three special municipalities, two counties and two cities, while the KMT held two special municipalities, 10 counties and one city.
If Tsai’s DPP retains these municipalities and makes inroads into Taipei, that could consolidate Tsai’s party chairmanship in the run-up to the presidential and legislative elections in January 2024.
Both the DPP and the KMT consider northern Taiwan a decisive battlefield.
In Taipei, three front-runners, former Health and Welfare Minister Chen Shih-chung of the DPP, KMT Legislator Chiang Wan-an, and independent candidate and former Taipei Deputy Mayor Vivian Huang, are in a dead heat for the seat, according to pre-election polls.
The polls show the KMT leading in New Taipei and Greater Taichung where incumbent New Taipei Mayor Hou You-yi of the KMT is fighting against former Transportation Minister Lin Chia-lung of the DPP, while incumbent Greater Taichung Mayor Lu Shiow-yen of the KMT is competing with a DPP contender, Deputy Legislative Speaker Tsai Chi-chang.
Taoyuan sees a four-way race pitting DPP Legislator Cheng Yun-peng against former premier Simon Chang of the KMT, Taiwan People’s Party Legislator Lai Hsiang-ling and expelled former DPP legislator and founding member Cheng Pao-ching.
In Greater Tainan, incumbent Mayor Huang Wei-che of the DPP went into the election with polls showing him with a sizeable lead over his KMT opponent, Tainan City Councilor Hsieh Lung-chieh, while in Greater Kaohsiung, incumbent Mayor Chen Chi-mai of the DPP held a two-digit lead over his main contender, former KMT legislator Ko Chih-en.
In the previous elections in 2018, the DPP won two special municipal districts, and four smaller counties and cities, while the KMT secured three special municipal districts and 11 smaller counties and cities.
However, the KMT lost one special municipal district in June 2020 when populist Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu was recalled. Conversely, the DPP gained one more special municipal seat after winning the Kaohsiung mayoral by-election in August the same year.
Alongside Saturday’s elections, voters will decide in a referendum on whether to lower the voting age for elections from 20 to 18.
Voting stations opened at 8 am and will close at 4 pm The results of the elections and referendum will be known Saturday night.