Pro-independence party candidate Ko Wen-je claims victory in Taipei mayor race

Taipei mayoral candidate Ko Wen-je greets supporters during an electoral campaign visit to a market ahead of local elections in Taipei on Nov 28, 2014. An independent candidate backed by Taiwan's opposition, pro-independence party on Saturday cl
Taipei mayoral candidate Ko Wen-je greets supporters during an electoral campaign visit to a market ahead of local elections in Taipei on Nov 28, 2014. An independent candidate backed by Taiwan's opposition, pro-independence party on Saturday claimed victory in local elections as the next mayor of Taipei, breaking the ruling party's 16-year hold on the island's capital. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI (Reuters) - An independent candidate backed by Taiwan's opposition, pro-independence party on Saturday claimed victory in local elections as the next mayor of Taipei, breaking the ruling party's 16-year hold on the island's capital.

The win by Dr Ko Wen-je, 55, a trauma surgeon, is a setback for the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) ahead of a presidential election in less than two years. Dr Ko defeated KMT candidate Sean Lien, the son of a wealthy, politically connected family.

The race for the mayor’s job had been widely interpreted as a test of confidence in the China-friendly government of Taiwan President Ma Ying-Jeou.

“Professor Ko will deliver his acceptance speech,” Mr Liu Shi-chung, a media liaison for Dr Ko’s campaign, told Reuters.

Every Taiwan president has been a former mayor of Taipei after the island introduced direct presidential elections in 1996.

“We congratulate Mr Ko,” Mr Lien said in his concession speech.“I’m sorry I didn’t win this election.”

Taiwan citizens went to the polls to elect mayors and councillors for a record 11,130 seats across the island.

The final results, which have yet to be confirmed by the Central Election Commission, are expected from 12 noon GMT.