TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan’s ruling party was handed a major defeat in local elections Saturday that were seen as a referendum on the administration of the island’s independence-leaning president amid growing economic and political pressure from China.
Soon after the results came in, President Tsai Ing-wen resigned as head of the Democratic Progressive Party. She will remain as president and her resignation will have no direct effect on the business of government, although the results bode ill for her re-election chances in two years.
Rival China said the results reflected a desire of Taiwanese for better relations with the mainland. Ma Xiaoguang, the spokesman for Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said his government will continue to treat Taiwan as part of China and “resolutely oppose separatist elements advocating ‘Taiwan independence’ and their activities,” according to the official Xinhua news agency.
In another victory for China, voters rejected a proposal to change the name of its Olympic team to Taiwan from the current Chinese Taipei. They also approved a referendum opposing same-sex marriage in a setback to LGBT couples, though ballot initiatives in Taiwan are non-binding.
The DPP lost the mayoral election to the Nationalist party in the southern port city of Kaohsiung, where it had held power for 20 years. The Nationalists also defeated the DPP in the central city of Taichung, home to much of Taiwan’s light industry, while Ko Wen-je, the independent mayor of Taipei, the capital, narrowly won a second term. The Nationalist candidate in Taipei has asked for a recount.
At a brief news conference at DPP headquarters late Saturday, Tsai announced she was stepping down as DPP chair and said she had refused Premier William Lai’s resignation, saying she wanted him to continue her reform agenda.