Remote Taiwan county votes against casinos despite lure of new jobs

An official counting a "no" vote yesterday in the referendum on casino development on the island of Penghu, Taiwan. The proposal was overwhelmingly rejected by 81 per cent of the voters.
An official counting a "no" vote yesterday in the referendum on casino development on the island of Penghu, Taiwan. The proposal was overwhelmingly rejected by 81 per cent of the voters.PHOTO: REUTERS

PENGHU COUNTY (Taiwan) • Taiwanese residents in Penghu yesterday shut the door to casino development in a referendum that proponents had said would bring jobs to the isolated, tiny offshore archipelago.

The referendum to allow gaming, open only to residents of the outlying county just west of the main Taiwan island, was opposed by the ruling independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

The proposal was overwhelmingly rejected with 81 per cent against and 19 per cent in favour, according to the county government. It was a wider margin than a referendum held seven years ago on the same issue that also failed.

"The focus is not gaming, it is our dissatisfaction. We have a small population, few votes, no influence," a voter who gave his surname as Hsiao told Reuters.

He said he voted "yes" to casino development because it makes the central government pay attention.

"I am 60 years old this year, and even if we want to build casinos it would take some 10-odd years. So I wouldn't be able to see it for myself anyway. But what is important is Taiwan's development," he said.

The concerns of Penghu, with a population of around 100,000 in the national total of 23 million, are part of the bigger economic divide that has seen Taiwan's second-tier cities and its offshore counties lag in resources and development compared to the wealthier metropolitan areas of the north, including the capital Taipei.

Last month, local government officials representing eight Taiwanese cities and counties, mainly ruled by the China-friendly opposition Nationalists, visited China and met its top Taiwan policymaker in a bid to continue economic and cultural exchanges.

Local governments have been seeking ways to sustain growth as the national economy, highly dependent on foreign and Chinese trade, slows amid global uncertainties and a political impasse between Taipei and Beijing.

China has frozen official communication with Taiwan since President and DPP leader Tsai Ing-wen took power in May because she refuses to acknowledge the "one China" principle, agreed to with the previous Nationalist government, that allows both sides to interpret who rules a single China that includes Taiwan. China deems Taiwan a wayward province to be taken back by force if necessary and deeply distrusts the DPP.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 16, 2016, with the headline 'Remote Taiwan county votes against casinos despite lure of new jobs'. Print Edition | Subscribe