Voters in Taiwan Oust a Pro-China Mayor


TAIPEI, Taiwan — Voters in the southern port city of Kaohsiung voted overwhelmingly on Saturday to remove their China-friendly mayor from office, just months after he lost his bid to unseat President Tsai Ing-wen in national elections.

The vote caps a roller-coaster two years for the mayor, Han Kuo-yu, who emerged from political obscurity to win the 2018 race in Kaohsiung, a traditional stronghold of Ms. Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party. That victory served as a launching pad for Mr. Han’s presidential bid.

Saturday’s vote, known as a recall, appeared to reflect Taiwan’s hardening attitude toward China, which has been intensifying efforts to bring the island democracy under its control. The vote is the first time that Taiwanese voters have removed a mayor, whose status is similar to a governor in the United States. A new election will choose his successor.

Mr. Han, of the opposition party, Kuomintang, had campaigned for president on a platform of forging closer ties with China’s Communist government, which claims Taiwan as its territory but has never ruled it. Running on the slogan, “Safety for Taiwan, money for the people,” Mr. Han said having better ties with China would lessen the risk of conflict and improve the economy.

But Ms. Tsai, who has vowed to preserve the island’s sovereignty, scored a convincing victory in the January presidential election. Beijing later denounced her inauguration.

Mr. Han’s pro-China stance, as well as his taking leave from the mayoralty to run for president, upset Kaohsiung voters. When running for mayor, he had told voters that he would not seek Taiwan’s highest office.

“He’s not a good mayor, he shouldn’t have run for president while in office,” Tsai Meng-hua, 48, said after casting her vote. “I also have misgivings about his leaning toward China. Some of his economic policies are very pro-China.”

The recall was supported by all but 2.6 percent of the votes cast.

But for the recall to succeed, it also needed the support of at least 25 percent of the city’s 2 million eligible voters. That threshold was easily surpassed on Saturday, when more than 939,000 votes were cast, according to the Kaohsiung Municipal Election Commission.

ImageCelebrating in Kaohsiung on Saturday after the vote to recall Mr. Han.
Credit…Kyodo News, via Getty Images

“We’re Kaohsiung! We’re proud!” a crowd chanted Saturday outside the headquarters of WeCare Kaohsiung, the group that had pushed for the recall vote.

Before declaring his presidential bid last year, Mayor Han visited China, where he met with the head of Beijing’s office for Taiwan policy, among other officials. In Hong Kong, he met with the island’s embattled chief executive, Carrie Lam, who has sought to implement Beijing’s highly unpopular policies.

President Xi Jinping of China has attempted to woo Taiwan with a “one country, two systems” arrangement similar to that of Hong Kong.

But Beijing has tightened its grip on Hong Kong this spring, pursuing a series of laws intended to suppress seemingly any act it perceives as a threat to China’s national security.

“The crisis in Hong Kong has given us a sense of crisis,” said Kao Rui-hong, a 40-year-old supermarket worker who voted to recall Mr. Han. “People in Kaohsiung are worried that he will make Taiwan follow in the footsteps of Hong Kong.”

Mr. Han conceded Saturday afternoon, but seemed to hold to his views.

“The only path for Kaohsiung in the future is globalization,” he said, in an oblique reference to closer economic interactions with China.

Chris Horton reported from Taipei, Taiwan, and Amy Chang Chien from Kaohsiung, Taiwan.


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