Taiwanese voters sanction the independence president, who leaves the head of his party

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President of Taiwan Tsai Ing-wen after her party's defeat in local elections on November 24.
President of Taiwan Tsai Ing-wen after her party's defeat in local elections on November 24. ANN WANG / REUTERS

Immediately learning from a severe defeat of her party in the local elections held on Saturday, November 24, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen announced in the evening that she was resigning from her party's presidency. Progressive Democratic Party (DPP). This party, which officially advocates the independence of the island from China, is therefore two years after coming to power a major crisis.

On the other hand, China, which does not recognize Taiwan, which it considers as one of its provinces, can only rejoice. The most accommodating party, the KMT (Nationalist Chinese Party), announced that it had won 15 of the 22 major cities and counties when it had only six at the start. On the other hand, the DPP, which headed 13 cities and counties, now heads only six. He lost the mayor of Kaohsiung, the second largest city in the country, which had been his stronghold for twenty years. The winner is a KMT underdog, Han Kuo-yu, sometimes dubbed the "Taiwanese Trump" because of the populist campaign he led, managing to pass for a newcomer, which is far from the case.

Context: In Taiwan, elections under Chinese influence

The victory of this one should revive the controversy on the Chinese interferences during the campaign. In recent weeks, the DPP denounces these, judging in particular suspect the craze for social networks for Han Kuo-yu and its position at the top of the search engines, because of clicks that would come from mainland China.

But this interference, which for now has not been demonstrated, should not hide the disappointment that has taken hold of many DPP voters since the 2016 presidential election. Tsai Ing-wen was elected on two key promises to proclaim the independence of the island and put an end to the stagnation of wages. But the economic situation is deteriorating and if Mme Tsai has moved closer to Washington and Tokyo and has increased military budgets, so far she has taken care not to provoke Beijing enough, even disappointing his supporters.

Favorable evolution in China

Chinese President Xi Jinping promised his compatriots that he would bring Taiwan back " at home ". For the past two years, China has been multiplying air and naval maneuvers near Taiwan, seeking – with some success – to isolate it diplomatically and undermine its economic development by reducing the flow of Chinese tourists allowed to visit the island and lobbying the international community for no country to sign a free trade agreement with Taiwan.

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Today, the United States and most major Western countries recognize only one China – the People's Republic of China – but have a representative – who does not have the status of ambassador – in Taipei, the capital from Taiwan where the nationalists had taken refuge in 1949 when the Communists came to power in Beijing.

If the former President of the Republic, Ma Ying-jeou (KMT), in power from 2008 to 2016, had made a clear rapprochement with Beijing, Mme Tsai Ing-wen has put an end to this policy. But its growing unpopularity is accompanied by a significant evolution of the 23 million Taiwanese against China: in September, a poll conducted regularly by the Public Opinion Foundation showed that the number of Taiwanese in favor of independence had increased from 51, 2% in 2016 – a record – to 36.2%, while 26.1% were in favor of unification versus only 14% two years earlier. The latter are now more numerous than the supporters of the status quo, 23%, a roughly stable figure. The failure of the DPP and the success of the KMT are also part of this evolution.

Frederic Lemaitre (Taipei, special envoy)

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