Residents of Taiwan’s southern port city of Kaohsiung overwhelmingly voted to oust their pro-China mayor at the weekend, a first in the democratic island’s history.
More than 97 percent of those who voted on Saturday in the southern port city of Kaohsiung opted to recall its mayor Han Kuo-yu, who was elected on a pro-China, pro-business platform for the opposition Kuomintang (KMT).
With turnout just over 42 percent, more than 939,000 votes were cast to recall Han, compared with the 892,545 votes that won him the job in the first place, the city’s election commission said.
A recall in Taiwan law requires turnout to be more than 25 percent, with a simple majority in favor, but this is the first time a major city leader has been unseated in this way.
Aaron Yin, who founded the WeCare Kaohsiung group to campaign for Han’s recall, welcomed the result.
“Today, the residents of Kaohsiung created history,” Yin said. “We initiated the movement, not for ourselves or out of hate for anyone, but because we refused to be constantly conned.”
“We rectified the problem. This is why the people of Kaohsiung are great,” he said.
KMT chairman Chiang Chi-chen vowed that his party would work to earn back voters’ trust, in Kaohsiung, a traditional stronghold of President Tsai Ing-wen’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
The recall came after Han lost the January 2020 presidential election to Tsai by a margin of two-and-a-half million votes after Tsai campaigned to lessen Chinese influence and attempts to undermine the island’s democracy, citing Beijing’s treatment of Hong Kong as an example.
A stepping stone
Many in Kaohsiung felt Han had used the city as a stepping stone to higher office, according to local media reports.
Kaohsiung must now hold an election for Han’s replacement within three months to serve out the remainder of his term, which runs through 2022.
“More than 900,000 Kaohsiung residents made a collective decision and took Taiwan’s democracy a step forward,” Tsai said in a statement after the result was announced.
“The result should be a warning to all politicians that the people can bestow power and can take it back.”
Han blamed a smear campaign by his political opponents.
“It is regrettable that my team had to deal with constant mud-slinging,” he said. “The criticisms were unfounded. I hope our good friends will judge us fairly.”
Victory for democracy
Meanwhile, Hong Kong pro-democracy campaigner Joshua Wong said the result was a victory for democracy.
“Han Kuo-yu, who’s aligned himself with authoritarian China’s interest, has been booted as mayor of #Kaohsiung by democratic vote,” Wong wrote on his Twitter account. “A great victory for #democracy and a clear message from Taiwanese saying “no” to Xi Jinping and Beijing’s influence on #Taiwan.”
Tsai has been a vocal supporter of Hong Kong protesters’ aspirations for full democracy, and against the use of police violence and political prosecutions to target protesters, and argued during a presidential election debate that China is the biggest threat to Taiwan’s way of life.
Taiwan was ruled as a Japanese colony in the 50 years prior to the end of World War II, but was occupied by the 1911 Republic of China under the Kuomintang (KMT) as part of Tokyo’s post-war reparation deal with the allies.
It has never been controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, nor formed part of the People’s Republic of China, but Beijing insists it will reclaim the island, by force if necessary.
Public opinion polls have shown that the violent suppression of Hong Kong’s anti-government protest movement last year fueled fears for Taiwan’s national security and democracy, and that only around 4.5 percent of Taiwan’s 23 million people welcome the idea of Chinese rule.
The island began a transition to democracy following the death of President Chiang Ching-kuo in January 1988, starting with direct elections to the legislature in the early 1990s and culminating in the first direct election of a president, Lee Teng-hui, in 1996.
(Reported by Hsia Hsiao-hwa for RFA’s Mandarin, and by Chung Kuang-cheng for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.)
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