A recall vote for a high-profile mayor is stirring political acrimony in Taiwan, with accusations of voter intimidation and official interference, and could bring new problems for the main opposition party after its comprehensive defeat in January elections.
The Kuomintang (KMT) soundly lost the presidential and parliamentary polls. Since then, under a youthful new leader, Johnny Chiang, it has tried to rethink its unpopular policy of seeking closer ties with China.
Now it faces further headaches as its defeated presidential candidate, Han Kuo-yu, faces a June 6 recall vote for mayor of the southern city of Kaohsiung, a major port whose leadership post he unexpectedly won in late 2018.
On Sunday, thousands of people took to the streets there to rally against Han, vowing to “reclaim Kaohsiung” and urging people to recall him in the vote on Saturday.
Han and the KMT have called on people to boycott the vote, which the election commission approved after a petition organised by WeCare Kaohsiung, a civic group.
“Please, good friends who support Han Kuo-yu, don’t vote on June 6, and don’t attend any political activities,” Han wrote on his Facebook page last month.
Han says the government is conspiring to kick him out, alleging that more trains have been scheduled for Saturday so people can go vote. The DPP-led government says that is untrue.
Han’s critics say he lacks interest in the city, pointing to the three-month leave of absence he took from his new mayoral duties to run for president.
Chang Po-yang, one of the recall vote organisers, said Han’s defeat would present a “major setback” for the KMT’s China policy as well as a rejection of closer ties with China.
“If we succeed, it means the Kuomintang’s China policy no longer has any market,” he told Reuters. Chang is a representative of the Taiwan Statebuilding Party, a pro-independence bloc close to the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
President Tsai Ing-wen and the DPP won January’s elections on promises they would stand up to China, which claims Taiwan as its sovereign territory.
Meanwhile, Taiwan police say they will deploy about 500 officers to polling stations after receiving reports that gangsters plan to intimidate people into not voting on Saturday.
The DPP has stepped up its attacks on the KMT’s China stance.
Premier Su Tseng-chang on Friday accused the Kuomintang of supporting “one country, two systems”, China’s proposal of autonomy to win Taiwan over.
Hong Kong, which China rules under such a system, is in the midst of protests over a Beijing-imposed security law that critics say would undermine most freedoms.
Kuomintang Chairman Chiang said this was “standard DPP trickery” to smear the party red, a reference to the colours of China’s Communist Party, and that he had repeatedly expressed his opposition to “one country, two systems”.