The electoral showing will boost prospects of the Nationalist Party in 2012 presidential poll [Reuters]


Taiwan's ruling party has held onto most of the island's mayoral seats in elections seen as a test of the party's popularity ahead of the 2012 presidential race.

Wins in three of five mayoral seats on Saturday gave the Nationalist Party, or KMT, a clear shot at retaining the presidency, which will calm neighbouring China as it has worked closely with the party on landmark trade deals after decades of political hostilities.

The KMT won second four-year terms in Taipei and Sinbei, the island's two largest cities, and in the central city of Taichung.

The anti-China opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) held the southern cities of Kaohsiung and Tainan.

Saturday's wins also end a slump for the KMT. The party did poorly in local polls elsewhere in Taiwan last year and in by-elections earlier this year as opinion poll ratings for Ma Ying-jeou, the president, declined.

However, Taiwanese politics change rapidly, meaning the 2012 presidential race will be decided by unforeseen new issues dominating the public agenda that year.

Status quo

But China's influence on the island will always be a major issue and the two countries are due
to talk next year about new import tariff cuts following an economic co-operation framework (ECFA) signed in mid-2010.

"Of course China doesn't want to see any change in the status quo, particularly in the three cities that the KMT has held for a long time," Shane Lee, political scientist at Chang Jung University in Taiwan, told Reuters news agency. 

Meanwhile, KMT leaders were low-key in their acceptance speeches.

"Hau Lung-bin will go to the people and listen to their voices," the re-elected Taipei mayor said of himself in a televised speech.

"There are a lot of areas where we need to review and improve."

Violence also marred the polls as voters cast ballots after the son of a former vice-president was shot and wounded during a ruling party campaign rally near Taipei late on Friday.

Media reports said a man arrested for the shooting was a member of a criminal gang and did not appear to have a political motive.

In 2004, Chen Shui-bian, an opposition leader, won the presidency by a thin margin after a bullet grazed him and his running mate.

The KMT said that incident was staged to win sympathy votes.

Source: Agencies