TAIPEI: With public fears of Chinese influence growing, a slowing economy and a series of food scandals, Taiwan’s ruling party is facing a rough ride in the island’s biggest ever local elections – seen as a barometer for the 2016 presidential race.
Campaigning is well under way with almost 20,000 candidates contesting a record 11,130 seats, and analysts predict the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang government will take a serious knock.
“The Kuomintang party is very likely to lose ground in the vote, it’s just a matter of to what extent,” said Tung Chen-yuan, social science professor at Taipei’s National Chengchi University.
From mayors of the country’s six municipalities to county chiefs, city councillors and village leaders, the elections on November 29 could see new faces at every level of local government.
The vote comes at the end of a turbulent year, which saw Taiwan’s parliament occupied in March for three weeks by student protesters over a controversial trade deal with China, sparking mass rallies.
Ties with Beijing have warmed since the Kuomintang came to power in 2008, with trade booming and millions of Chinese tourists visiting the island each year.
But the improved relationship has led to domestic anxiety that Taiwan is too reliant on the mainland.
Stagnant income levels and soaring housing prices are a major source of complaint among voters, particularly for younger generations.
The Kuomintang is also under fire over a string of food safety scandals, the latest of which prompted the resignation of the health minister after more than 1,000 restaurants, bakeries and food plants were found to have used tainted cooking oil – known as “gutter oil.”