Taiwan president quits as party head after China threat bet fails to win votes
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By Sarah Wu and Yimou Lee
TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen resigned as leader of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) on Saturday after her strategy of framing local elections as a defiance of China's rising belligerence failed to pay off and garnered popular support.
The elections for mayors, district heads and local councils are said to be about domestic issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic and crime, and those elected will not have a direct say in China policy.
But Tsai had reframed the election as more than a local vote, saying the world is watching as Taiwan defends its democracy amid military tensions with China, which claims the island as its territory.
The main opposition party, the Kuomintang or KMT, led or maintained victory in 13 of the 21 vacant mayoral and county chief seats, including the capital Taipei, versus the five DPP seats, broadly in line with expectations and similar to the results of the last local elections in 2018.
“The results did not meet our expectations. We humbly accept the results and accept the decision of the Taiwanese people," Tsai told reporters at party headquarters when she quit as party chair, which she did even after the poor results of 2018.
"It's not that the DPP has never failed before," added Tsai, who will serve as president until 2024. "We don't have time to feel sorry. We fell, but we will rise again."
Tsai said she rejected an offer of resignation from Premier Su Tseng-chang, also a senior member of the DPP, and asked him to remain in office to ensure her policies were properly implemented.
The cabinet said Su agreed to stay because he needed stability amid the "difficult" domestic and international situation.
China's Taiwan Affairs Office said the result shows that mainstream Taiwanese public opinion is in favor of peace, stability and "a good life," and that Beijing will continue to work with Taiwan's people to promote peaceful ties and uphold Taiwan and foreign independence oppose interference.
Both the DPP and the KMT, which traditionally favor close ties with China but staunchly denies being pro-Beijing, had focused their campaign efforts on wealthy and populous northern Taiwan, particularly Taipei, whose mayor from the small People's Party of Taiwan has not as a result more could run for maturity limits.
The KMT has accused Tsai and the DPP of being overly confrontational with China and trying to smear the party for being "red" - a nod to the colors of the Chinese Communist Party.
She focused her campaign on criticizing the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially after a spike in cases this year.
KMT Chairman Eric Chu celebrated their victory but said they would also protect Taiwan's freedoms.
"We will insist on defending the ROC and protecting democracy and freedom," he told reporters, using Taiwan's official name. "We will also work hard to keep the peace in the region."
China held war games near Taiwan in August to vent its anger over a visit to Taipei by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and its military activities continued, albeit on a reduced scale.
The election came a month after the Chinese Communist Party's 20th Congress, which saw President Xi Jinping secure an unprecedented third term, a point Tsai repeatedly emphasized during the campaign.
The focus will now turn to the 2024 presidential and parliamentary elections, which Tsai and the DPP won in a landslide victory in 2020 on pledges to stand against China and defend Taiwan's freedoms.
Tsai is serving her second term and cannot run for president again due to term restrictions.
(Reporting by Sarah Wu and Yimou Lee; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Gerry Doyle, William Mallard, Edmund Klamann, Mark Heinrich, Kirsten Donovan)
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