Anti-China opposition gains ground in Taiwan local election

Sat Dec 5, 2009 10:10am EST
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By Ralph Jennings

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan's China-friendly ruling party lost a county vote to the opposition on Saturday in elections seen as a first test for President Ma Ying-jeou's policy of engagement with Beijing.

The Nationalist Party (KMT) lost the magistrate job in Ilan county to the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which supports Taiwan's formal independence from China and upset Beijing when it controlled the presidency from 2000 to 2008.

Although the KMT kept its large overall lead as expected, holding the opposition to four of the 17 cities and counties that voted, the ruling party was muted in its reaction.

Ma, also the KMT chief, conceded at a news conference that election results "did not measure up to ideals."

Polling followed 174 arrests covering more than 2,400 cases of vote buying and election-related violence, the Taiwan justice ministry said on Saturday after an aggressive crackdown during the campaign.

The elections, involving 38 percent of the electorate, were to select county magistrates and city mayors, county and city councillors and township chiefs.

"I think the KMT will try to inform the DPP that this is a local election that will not affect China policy, but of course there will be other voices," said Alexander Huang, strategic studies professor at Tamkang University in Taipei.

"Beijing might raise some concern on whether (relations with China) play into the election result," Huang said.   Continued...

<p>Taiwan President and Nationalist Party Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (C) speaks at a news conference after the results of the Taiwanese local elections, in Taipei December 5, 2009. REUTERS/Nicky Loh</p>