Taiwan municipal elections

DPP braces itself for election blow as youth support fades

A supporter holds up a sign with English words 'Taiwan, Taipei' at a campaign rally for ruling Democratic Progressive Party's Taipei mayor candidate Yao Wen-chih in Taipei, Taiwan, on Nov 23, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TAIPEI • Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is bracing itself for today's municipal elections, with signs showing that young voters' enthusiasm for politics has faded.

People aged 20 to 39 voted in record numbers in the 2014 municipal polls and 2016 presidential and legislative elections, a crucial factor in the DPP's triumph over the Kuomintang (KMT), which had dominated Taiwanese politics for much of Taiwan's history since 1949.

An average of some 75 per cent of the demographic voted in the two elections, a full 15 percentage points higher than in previous elections.

In particular, nine in 10 Taiwanese in their 20s voted for the DPP's Tsai Ing-wen for president, ensuring that she won the election. The DPP also now controls both the Parliament and 13 of Taiwan's 22 municipalities, cities and counties.

They also elected five young, fresh-faced politicians under the nascent New Power Party (NPP) as lawmakers, turning it into the third largest party after the DPP and KMT in the 113-seat Parliament.

But Taiwanese youth are increasingly jaded over the DPP's lacklustre performance. The percentage of Taiwanese aged between 20 and 29 dissatisfied with Ms Tsai's performance rose from 35.3 per cent at the end of last year to 49.2 per cent in July, according to surveys by Taiwan Brain Trust, a think-tank.

Young Taiwanese are frustrated with the Tsai administration's flip-flopping on initial proposals for labour and pension reforms, as well as its inaction in pushing for gay rights, which Ms Tsai had unequivocally supported during her presidential campaign.

A surge in anti-China sentiments when the China-friendly KMT was in power had galvanised youngsters in 2014 and 2016, but this has faded and a lower youth voter turnout is expected this time.

Ms Hsu, a tourism undergraduate interning at the Rose House cafe in Kaohsiung, is one of those who will skip the polls.

"I'm not going to vote; I don't care for politics," the 21-year-old, who declined to give her full name, told The Straits Times.

The NPP has 40 candidates running for city councillor posts in the polls, which will elect some 11,000 local officials ranging from mayors to neighbourhood chiefs.

The party, born out of the 2014 Sunflower Student Movement protesting against a controversial cross-strait pact, joined forces with the DPP in the 2016 legislative elections but now shuns the beleaguered ruling party.

Mr Huang Kuo-chang, the NPP's 44-year-old head, expressed frustration with the DPP in an interview with the Nikkei Asian Review. "It'll be tougher to get a lot of young people out to the polls," he said.

Still, parties are continuing to make the effort to appeal to the young. A resurgent KMT is fielding 105 candidates aged below 40, a 42 per cent jump from the 2014 cohort. "KMT can also make young people's lives better," the party's youth wing chief Weng Shao-hui told reporters last month as he urged young voters to get out the vote.

The DPP has aired a series of campaign ads exhorting young people to safeguard the island's democracy. The NPP has made short films featuring fantasy elements and animation and its candidates hold live-stream shows on Facebook.

Lee Seok Hwai

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 24, 2018, with the headline DPP braces itself for election blow as youth support fades. Subscribe