Taiwan's premier resigns after ruling party loss in local election

Taiwan's premier resigns after ruling party loss in local election
A woman holding a Taiwan national flag reacts after Nationalist Party (KMT) Taipei mayoral candidate Lien conceded defeat at the local elections, at the campaign headquarters in Taipei.

TAIPEI - Taiwan's premier resigned Saturday after his Beijing-friendly ruling party suffered a landslide defeat at the island's biggest ever local elections.

Jiang Yi-huah announced that he had stepped down at a brief press conference, saying that he took "political responsibility" for the Kuomintang's heavy losses.

Unofficial results showed the KMT had lost in five out of Taiwan's six municipalities, retaining a slender lead in the race for New Taipei which was still too close to call.

Jiang said that his resignation had been accepted by President Ma Ying-jeou.

"The public has not been satisfied with the government's performance, and that was reflected in the results of the vote. So I have decided to assume political responsibility and tendered my resignation, which has been approved by President Ma," he said.

The KMT is struggling with growing fears over Chinese influence, a slowing economy and a string of food scandals - the local polls are seen as a key test ahead of the 2016 presidential race, with China policy a key issue.

Embattled Ma, who came to power in 2008 on a Beijing-friendly platform, must step down at the end of his second four-year term.

Taiwan and China split in 1949 at the end of a civil war, but Beijing still claims the island as part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.

Ma has overseen a marked improvement in previously frosty ties between Taipei and Beijing since he ended the DPP's eight-year rule in 2008 on a platform of boosting the economy and trade with China.

However, the public has grown increasingly anxious over China's influence on the island.

A proposed trade pact with the mainland sparked mass student-led protests and a three-week occupation of Taiwan's parliament earlier this year.

The opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has traditionally been sceptical over closer ties with Beijing and has criticised the KMT for lack of transparency over trade deals with China.

'Tearful defeat' 

Independent candidate Ko Wen-je took the KMT's traditional stronghold of Taipei, with his rival Sean Lien tearfully declaring defeat ahead of the official result.

"I am very sorry that I didn't meet everybody's expectations. This is my personal responsibility and it's because I didn't work hard enough..." Lien told his supporters, bowing deeply.

Incumbent KMT mayor Jason Hu in the party's other key stronghold of Taichung also conceded a loss to the DPP's Lin Chia-lung.

"I thank many young people who came out to vote, you took part in history and you created history," Lin said.

The DPP declared a surprise victory in Taoyuan and retained its seats in Tainan and Kaohsiung - party spokesman Huang Di-ying told AFP that the party's performance was "beyond our expectations".

A record 11,130 seats at every level of local government are up for grabs, with 18 million people eligible to vote.

Turnout figures have not yet been confirmed but were expected to be 65 to 75 percent.

"Many young people are concerned about job prospects and high housing prices so I hope to see change and new thinking in the government to make things better for us," graduate student Mark Hsu told AFP outside a polling station in the capital.

Counting is still under way with full official results expected around 11:00 pm.

Before the vote, the KMT dominated 15 of Taiwan's 22 cities and counties, while the DPP held seven.

Of the six larger municipalities - the most hotly contested seats - the KMT controlled three in the north and one in the centre, against the DPP's two in the south.

Around 60,000 policemen were mobilised across the island for the vote, authorities said, with barbed-wire barricades outside the presidential office.

Taiwan has experienced sporadic election violence, with two high-profile shootings at election-eve campaign events in recent years.

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