Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen's ruling Democratic Progressive Party suffered a major defeat in Saturday's local elections, which are seen as a prelude to the island's 2024 presidential and legislative elections, with the China-friendly opposition Nationalist Party (KMT) winning mayoral seats in four of six special municipal districts.
Following the defeat, Tsai offered to step down as head of her independence-leaning party.
The heavy losses suffered by the DPP are certain to weaken Tsai and likely to intensify competition for the party's next candidate in the presidential election scheduled for January 2024.
In Taipei, KMT candidate Chiang Wan-an trounced former Health and Welfare Minister Chen Shih-chung of the DPP. Speaking to supporters at his campaign office, Chiang, a great-grandson of former leader Chiang Kai-shek, said the election was a race of values.
"We saw righteousness conquer lies, democracy defeat suppression and light pass through opaqueness," he said.
Incumbent Mayor Hou You-yi of the KMT won in New Taipei, while in Taoyuan, where the DPP held a mayoral seat, former Premier Simon Chang of the KMT defeated his DPP contender, legislator Cheng Yun-peng. In Greater Taichung, incumbent Mayor Lu Shiow-yen of the KMT emerged victorious.
The two mayoral seats the DPP retained in special municipal districts were in Greater Tainan, where incumbent Mayor Huang Wei-che narrowly defeated his KMT opponent, and in Greater Kaohsiung, where incumbent Mayor Chen Chih-mai defeated former KMT legislator Ko Chih-en.
Elsewhere in Taiwan, Kao Hung-an, a lawmaker of the relatively new Taiwan People's Party, in which outgoing Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je serves as chairman and founder, edged out other candidates in Ko's hometown city of Hsinchu. Kao became her party's first and only candidate to secure a seat in the local elections.
About 19 million people were eligible to vote, choosing more than 11,000 local officials. In all, nine categories of elected office, including mayors of six special municipal districts, and more than a dozen smaller cities and counties, were up for grabs in what is commonly known as the "nine-in-one" elections.
Saturday's elections were held amid increasing military pressure from mainland China, which sees the democratic island as part of its territory, but the top issues remained on the domestic front.
Most were focused on the special municipal districts, where outcomes were certain to be significant. The DPP controlled three special municipalities ahead of the elections, while the KMT held two and the Taiwan People's Party had one.
Both the DPP and the KMT considered northern Taiwan a decisive battlefield.
In the previous elections in 2018, the DPP won two special municipal districts, and four smaller counties and cities, while the KMT secured three special municipal districts and 11 smaller counties and cities.
However, the KMT lost one special municipal district in June 2020 when populist Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu was recalled. Conversely, the DPP gained one more special municipal seat after winning the Kaohsiung mayoral by-election in August of the same year.
Alongside Saturday's elections, a referendum was held on lowering the voting age for elections from 20 to 18. The proposal for such a constitutional amendment must have the support of at least half of all eligible voters who cast their ballots in the referendum, or a minimum of 9.61 million.