KMT’s electoral resurgence and its implications for 2024 Presidential Election
The resurgence of the Kuomintang (KMT) in the recent local county mayoral elections in Taiwan has important directional implications for the 2024 presidential elections. Although politics is the art of the possible and although electoral outcomes can be unpredictable, the local elections on November 26, 2022 have political significance that cannot be neglected in our political analysis of Taiwan’s politics and its interactions with the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
First and foremost, of the 21 counties where mayoral elections were held (except for one county in Chiayi where the election is postponed to December 18), the KMT grasped 13 seats and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) merely acquired 5. The Taiwan People’s Party grasped one mayoral seat (Ann Kao in Hsinchu) and two independent candidates without party affiliation captured the seats in Miaoli and Kinmen counties. Compared with the 2018 county and mayoral election results, the KMT lost one position and DPP lost two positions. However, in terms of the number of votes gained by the KMT, it acquired 5.7 million votes. On the contrary, the DPP merely got 4.7 million votes – a gap of 1 million votes compared with the KMT.
Although the presidential elections in 2024 may witness a stronger comeback of the DPP, the November 26 elections pointed to its obvious defeat. DPP leader Tsai Ing-wen had to resign from her position as the party chair on the same night.
Second, the KMT witnessed the rise of not only new starts, notably Chiang Wan-an who won the mayoral election in Taipei by defeating DPP’s Chen Shih-chung with a wide margin of 141,000 votes, and also strong incumbents, specifically Hou You-yi winning 1.15 million votes over DPP’s Lin Chia-lung with just 693,976 votes in New Taipei City, and Lu Shiow-yen who grasped 799,107 votes defeating DPP’s Tsai Chi-chang with just 524,224 votes in Taichung city.
The results above showed that the KMT is electorally very strong in the Taipei and Taichung regions, with the implications that Chiang Wan-an will likely be groomed as the future leader of the KMT in the coming five to ten years.
Strategically speaking, the DPP made an error by nominating the older Chen Shih-chung to compete with Chiang Wan-an rather than utilizing the younger Lin Chia-lung, who was shifted to compete with the strongest KMT candidate Hou You-yi in New Taipei City. The failure of the two DPP candidates in Taipei and New Taipei City also demonstrated the overconfidence of the DPP strategists, who miscalculated that the KMT strongholds in two places were weak without their “iron votes” among the electorate.
Most importantly, the very impressive performance of Hou You-yi and Lu Shiow-yen has already generated rumors that both of them can team up in the 2024 presidential election, forming a strong joint ticket rivalling any DPP presidential candidate.
It is noteworthy that Hou You-yi publicly said that he would not exclude the possibility of participating in the 2024 presidential election. However, strategically speaking, the KMT may have to avoid giving an immature and early image that Hou would be far more interested in presidential politics than county affairs – an image which had already undermined the previously rising star Han Kuo-yu, who was popularly elected as the mayor of Kaohsiung city in November 2018 but who soon became the Taiwan presidential election candidate in 2020. His defeat in the 2020 presidential election led to his recall in June 2020, signaling the rapid rise and fall of the KMT star. Hence, the KMT party headquarters needs to learn from the lesson from the rapid rise and fall of Han Kuo-yu. Even if Hou You-yi is gradually groomed as the next KMT presidential candidate, the party headquarters will have to make such announcement only at the latest stage and at a ripe time without undermining the image of rising KMT stars. Furthermore, as the KMT has been traditionally plagued by factionalism, internal solidarity will be a must if the KMT wishes to re-capture presidential power in Taiwan’s complex domestic politics.
Third, the so-called Taiwan “referendum” on whether 18-year-old citizens would be able to vote by amending the constitution failed to acquire the necessary legal threshold of having half of the total electorate (meaning 9.62 million votes this time). Only 5.65 million votes cast their ballots for constitutional amendment, The result meant that 410,000 Taiwan voters aged between 18 and 20 will have to wait until the age of 20 to enjoy the voting rights of casting their ballots and participating in elections as candidates. The defeat of the “referendum” is a serious setback to the ruling DPP.
Fourth, the DPP’s confrontational tactics toward the PRC failed utterly in the 2022 county and mayoral election results. After the Nancy Pelosi visit to Taipei in early August and after the military drills conducted by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on the waters surrounding Taiwan, and after the 20th Party Congress assertion that Taiwan’s sovereignty belongs to mainland China and that the use of military force cannot be excluded in dealing with “complete reunification,” more people in Taiwan are clearly concerned about the DPP’s anti-mainland policy and stance. Some Taiwan voters love Taiwan but do not want to witness any conflicts across the Taiwan Strait. As such, the DPP’s policy toward mainland China has already discredited the image of its candidates in the 2022 county and mayoral elections.
Objectively speaking, the victory of Tsai Ing-wen of the DPP in the 2020 presidential election was a result of benefiting from the political turbulence and chaos in Hong Kong during the latter half of 2019. With the political order of Hong Kong being restored, and with the Beijing-Taipei relations remaining tense, the DPP is clearly suffering from the 2022 election results.
Of course, one day can be a long time in politics. It remains to be seen whether the KMT momentum will be maintained from now to the 2024 presidential election – a long path with lots of uncertainties, complexities, twists and turns.
Fifth, it can be safely predicted that Beijing-Taipei relations will not take a turn for the better from now to the 2024 presidential election – a stagnant situation mainly due to the DPP’s failure to recognize the 1992 consensus and partly due to the firm position adopted by the mainland side. As such, the DPP popularity will be unlikely improving unless there would be scandals erupting on the side of the KMT. If this analysis is accurate, the politics of digging out scandals from both sides – DPP and KMT – and the politics of pre-election campaign even well before 2024 will be increasingly significant and will deserve our careful observation.
Interestingly, the more hardline the position adopted by the PRC on Taiwan, the more likely the Taiwan voters’ tendency to support the KMT. If this observation is perhaps accurate, then the mainland would likely maintain its hardline policy toward Taiwan from now to the 2024 presidential election.
Similarly, the more hardline the DPP policy toward the mainland, the more hardline the mainland policy toward Taiwan. Given the consistent DPP’s hardline policy toward the PRC, it can be safely predicted that the PRC would continue its hardline approach in dealing with Taiwan.
It would be interesting to observe who will lead the DPP in the 2024 presidential election. If any leader succeeding Tsai would not garner sufficient support inside and outside the party, the DPP prospects will surely be affected.
The final factor shaping the KMT developments will be the degree to which it can rejuvenate its party membership. The victory of Chiang Wan-an is politically significant. His image as a youthful, charismatic, professional, populist, fresh and family-oriented candidate won him considerable number of votes. Such an image represented the resurgence, rejuvenation and revival of the entire KMT. It remains to be seen whether the opposition party can and will maintain this momentum from now to the 2024 presidential election.
In conclusion, the 2022 county and mayoral elections in Taiwan undoubtedly points to the resurgence, revival and rejuvenation of the entire KMT. Amid the tense relations between the ruling DPP and the mainland, the KMT is clearly the beneficiary of the election. However, as politics is often filled with complexities and uncertainties, it remains to be seen whether the KMT will be able to return to presidential power in 2024.