TAIPEI – Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has stepped down as chairwoman of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) after a series of local election defeats on Saturday.
Tsai also told a news conference that she had not accepted the resignation of her premier, William Lai, who had offered to quit earlier in the evening.
The local elections on Saturday were seen as a referendum on the administration of the island’s independence-leaning president amid growing economic and political pressure from China.
The next presidential election is scheduled for 2020.
“As chairperson of the ruling party, I will take complete responsibility for the outcome of today’s local elections,” Tsai told reporters.
“Our efforts weren’t enough and we let down all our supporters who fought with us. I want to express our most sincere apologies.”
Several referendum questions were also on the ballot on Saturday, including one on gay marriage, results of which will be announced on Sunday. Activists have said they fear a win for conservative “pro-family” campaigners could turn back the clock on Taiwan’s reputation as a trailblazer for marriage equality.
Tsai and the DPP have faced a mounting backlash over domestic reforms and concerns about deteriorating ties with China, which still sees self-ruling Taiwan as part of its territory to be reunified.
The main opposition Kuomintang party (KMT), which oversaw an unprecedented thaw with Beijing before Tsai took office in 2016, has declared victory in 15 of 22 city and county seats, up from just six going into the election.
The DPP, which went into the election with 13 seats, declared victory in only six and lost its traditional stronghold in Kaohsiung city for the first time in 20 years.
Beijing has intensified pressure on Taiwan under Tsai, upping military drills, poaching diplomatic allies and successfully convincing international businesses to list Taiwan as part of China on their websites.
The DPP is traditionally pro-independence and Tsai has refused to acknowledge Beijing’s stance that Taiwan is part of “one China”, unlike her KMT predecessor Ma Ying-jeou.
Ahead of the vote, Tsai and DPP officials repeatedly said they believed China has meddled in the lead-up to the elections through a “fake news” campaign, which Beijing has denied.
The KMT — which lost the leadership and its majority in parliament two years ago as the public feared it had moved too close to Beijing — framed the election as a vote of no confidence in Tsai, with promises to boost the economy and improve relations once more with China.
Some traditionally pro-DPP groups said before the election that they wanted to punish the party as their businesses had taken a hit from cross-strait tensions.
Since her election in 2016, Tsai has walked a fine line on relations with China, maintaining Taiwan’s de facto independent status that the vast majority of Taiwanese support, while avoiding calls from the more radical elements of her party for moves to declare formal separation from the mainland.
Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists rebased their government to Taiwan in 1949 amid the civil war with Mao Zedong’s Communists. They ruled under martial law until the late 1980s when the native Taiwanese population began to take political office, mostly through the DPP.
Source: Reuters, AFP, Bangkok Post