Tiny Taiwanese outlying island says no to casinos in referendum vote

An anti-casino demonstration in Penghu, Taiwan, on Oct 8, 2016. The banner reads "Refuse the casino".
An anti-casino demonstration in Penghu, Taiwan, on Oct 8, 2016. The banner reads "Refuse the casino". PHOTO: AFP

TAIWAN (REUTERS) - Taiwanese residents in Penghu on Saturday (Oct 15) 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 to 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 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," Hsiao said.

The concerns of Penghu, with a population of around 100,000 against the 23 million national total, 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 metropolis areas of the north, including the capital Taipei.

Last month, local government officials representing eight Taiwanese cities and counties, mainly ruled by the opposition China-friendly Nationalists, visited China and met with 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 trade and trade with China, 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 China-friendly Nationalists 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, which traditionally advocates independence.