How did the DPP perform in the local elections?

Written by Jonathan Leung.

Image credit: 蔡英文/ Facebook.

Less than a week after the 2022 local elections, the mid-terms showed a completely different result than the national election two years ago. With a landslide victory of 8.17 million votes in the 2020 presidential election, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has only received 4.74 million ballots for the mayoral and magistracy elections. Under Tsai Ing-wen’s leadership, the party has received the highest and lowest votes in history in national and local elections. Excluding the postponed mayoral election of Chiayi City, the DPP has only won five seats, which is a seat less than the 2018 election. The DPP secured Kaohsiung City, Tainan City, Chiayi County and Pingtung County and also gained Penghu County. On the contrary, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has secured every constituency except Penghu County and gained Taipei City, Taoyuan City and Keelung City. This article roughly discusses the losses and gains of the DPP in the 2022 local elections.

Losses for the Democratic Progressive Party

The election result is considered a ‘Waterloo’ to the DPP; this is also a terrible beginning for their 2024 national election. Tsai immediately resigned as leader of the DPP, and Chen Chi-mai, the mayor of Kaohsiung and one of the two DPP candidates who have won a landslide victory, has taken up the responsibility as Acting Chairman. The first thing Chen did as leader of the DPP was to bow and claim that the DPP would be humble to reflect on themselves.

The first standard to indicate the DPP’s performance is their battle to secure their five-star governance cities, an evaluation conducted annually by the Global Views Monthly Magazine, Taoyuan, Keelung, Hsinchu, and Pingtung. Yet, thrice DPP mayors Cheng Wen-tsan, Lin Yu-chang and Lin Chih-chien failed to pass on to their party successors despite their high support rate of governance. The Taoyuan mayoral election is one of the most controversial and highly debated ones. First, the DPP conscripted the former mayor of Hsinchu Lin Chih-chien to run for the mayoralty of Taoyuan. Still, he soon withdrew from the party nomination due to plagiarising in his two master’s dissertations and being revoked by two universities. The DPP then conscripted Cheng Yun-peng, a Taoyuan legislator, to replace Lin’s candidacy. This has led to the rebellion of Cheng Pao-ching, a DPP member who left the party to run the election to show discontent with the party’s decision. Chang San-cheng, the KMT member who was also the Ma Ying-jeou government’s last premier, took Taoyuan’s mayoralty.

In Keelung, the DPP has nominated Tsai Shih-ying, the legislator from Keelung, to face George Hsieh, the former KMT legislator. Tsai was accused by former New Power Party leader Huang Kuo-chang that he has lobbied and pressurised the Ministry of Defense to sell a piece of land cheaply. Besides, the warm-hearted image of Hsieh taking care of his disabled daughter has also helped improve his image. As a result, Hsieh took Keelung from the DPP at last.

Hsinchu is another fierce battlefield. The sudden resignation of Lin Chih-chien to switch his battlefield to Taoyuan has started the DPP’s decline in the Chip-Hub of Taiwan. His plagiarism incident, followed by the Ballpark incident and traffic congestion problems, have revealed the hidden malpractice of DPP’s five-star governance. The DPP has conscripted Shen Hui-hung, the former deputy mayor of Hsinchu, who has actually just joined the party before the nomination. The KMT candidate Lin Ken-jeng, a 24-year Hsinchu city councillor, was at the leading position in the opinion poll until Ann Kao, the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) legislator, joined the election. Both Shen and Lin have cannoned firing Kao for days on end, accusing her of plagiarising on her PhD thesis, her betrayal of the Institute for Information Industry and her fraudulence on assistants’ expenses. Yet, Kao defeated the two traditional parties and took Hsinchu. As a result, the DPP has lost three of their five-star governance cities.

South Taiwan is traditionally a base for the DPP. Yet, the results in Tainan and Pingtung were narrow victories. Tainan used to have the largest number of DPP supporters; William Lai, the Vice-president and former premier got 72.9% of votes in 2014 during his re-election of Tainan mayoralty. But the DPP candidate Huang Wei-che could only take 48.8% of the votes this time. On the contrary, the KMT has nominated Hsieh Lung-chieh, a Tainan city councillor nationally famous for mastering Taiwanese Hokkien in the council. He received 43.6% of votes, 11% more than the KMT’s performance in 2018 and 16% more than in 2014. Tainan was no longer a safe seat for the DPP. Besides, the election in Pingtung also alarms the DPP.

Pingtung was the only place where the DPP ran a primary this year; with the strong endorsement of the incumbent magistrate Pan Men-an, legislator Chou Chun-mi defeated his two colleagues, Chuang Jui-hsiung and Chung Chia-bin, to represent the DPP to run the magistracy. The KMT has nominated Su Ching-chuan, a former legislator. The DPP primary was enveloped in the flames of war; three candidates attacked each other strongly. This has demonstrated the disunity of the DPP, also giving a chance to the KMT to take advantage of their dispute. Another DPP legislator of Pingtung (membership suspended), Su Chen-ching, who backed Chuang during the primary, has secretly turned to the KMT candidate, showing the split of the DPP. Chou only won with a majority of less than 2.5%; the gap was 13% in 2018 and 26% in 2014. The KMT performance has improved dramatically in Pingtung. Su has even sought for vote recount since the gap is too small. Although the DPP has secured Tainan and Pingtung, it has been a tough race for them.

Gains for the Democratic Progressive Party

While everyone focuses on the drawbacks of the DPP in the 2022 local elections, we should not overlook some of their success which is not widely reported and realised. The spotlight focuses on the mayoral and magistrate elections, but the city and county councillor elections, voting rates and the overall number of ballots should also be examined.

The DPP has actually gained more seats in local councils. Although they have lost the mayoralty in Keelung, they took 13 city councillors, which they could only manage to take six in 2018, there is a progress of more than double. The same case in Hsinchu City – although the TPP took the mayoralty, the eight nominated councillors were all elected, two more seats than in the last election. The DPP also has a good harvest in some traditional pan-blue counties. In Hsinchu County, the DPP has jumped from three to six councillors. In Taitung, the DPP has also doubled its councillor from one to two. In Hualien, the DPP has maintained its three seats with more ballots. Forming a party caucus requires at least three councillors from the same party. Therefore, the DPP could maintain their party caucus in most of the councils, strengthening their local cohesion even though they could not take the mayoral and magistrate seats.

Most importantly, the DPP took a village representative in Lienchiang, the first elected official in the bluest county. Besides, the DPP unexpectedly took Jhubei, the fastest-growing population area in Taiwan. KMT legislator Lin Wei-chou was defeated by the DPP candidate Cheng Chao-fang, the son of the former KMT Hsinchu county magistrate Cheng Yung-chin. The DPP has won different victories in some non-eye-catching battles, which should not be ignored since this will affect the party’s foundation in the local communities.

How did other parties perform?

One thing that makes this year’s election result unpredictable is the fact that the DPP had about a 33.5% support rate, which is quite remarkable for the sixth year of a ruling party. While the KMT as a party has only received an 18.5% support rate in the polls, their mayoral and magistrate candidates were always leading in the local opinion poll. Voters chose the KMT not because they agreed with the party’s ideology or performance but because they simply evaluated the candidate’s individual character and municipal administrative performance. On the contrary, the TPP had a 16% support rate before the election. This was more than enough for most of their councillors to be elected since the election councillors are elected through the Single non-transferable voting system in multi-member districts. Yet, they could only take 14 seats while they have nominated for 86 seats. Although Ann Kao has taken Hsinchu City, the TPP could only take two seats in the Hsinchu City Council, while they have nominated seven. Kao will be difficult to run her municipal administration without strong support from the council.

In conclusion, although the DPP was defeated in most of the mayoral and magistrate elections, they are yet to be eliminated. They took 277 councillor seats in total, 39 more than in 2018. On the contrary, the KMT took 367 councillor seats, which they have lost 27 seats compared to 2018. Besides, cross-strait relations issue is not a major debating topic for a local election, resulting in the failure of DPP to motivate their supporters and independent citizens to vote. Therefore, the election result might be completely different in 2024, just as the landslide victory of the DPP in 2020 after their defeat in 2018.

Jonathan Leung is an MA History student at SOAS, University of London and a history graduate from the University of Sheffield. He is researching in post-war political and social history of Taiwan.

This article was published as part of a special issue on “2022 Local Elections.”

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