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Taiwan votes to lower voting age, mayors, city councils

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TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Voters headed to polling stations across Taiwan for Saturday’s local elections that will be…

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Voters headed to polling stations across Taiwan for Saturday’s local elections that will determine the strength of the island’s main political parties ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

Citizens of Taiwan will elect their mayors, city councilors and other local leaders in all 13 counties and six major cities. There is also a referendum on lowering the voting age from 20 to 18. Polling stations opened at 8am (0000 GMT) on Saturday.

While international observers and the ruling party tried to link the election with a long-term existential threat is Taiwan’s neighbor, many local experts do not think that China should play a big role this time.

“The international community raised the stakes too high. They raised local elections to the international level and survived Taiwan,” said Yelich Wang, a professor of political science at National Taiwan University.

President Tsai Ing-wen, who is also chairman of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, has repeatedly spoken of “standing up to China and protecting Taiwan” during the election campaign. But DPP candidate Chen Shi-chung, running for mayor of Taipei, raised the threat from the Communist Party only a few times before quickly returning to local issues as there was little interest, experts said.

During the campaign there was little mention of large-scale military exercises against Taiwan which China held in August in response to a visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“So I think if you can’t even raise this issue in (the capital) Taipei,” Wang said. “You don’t even have to consider it in cities down south.”

Instead, companies have resolutely focused on the local: air pollution in the central city of Taichung, snarling traffic in Taipei’s Nangang technology hub, and strategies for procuring the island’s COVID-19 vaccine, which was in short supply during last year’s outbreak.

The candidates spent the last week before the elections in a busy public schedule. On Sunday, the DPP’s Chen marched through Taipei with a large parade filled with dancers in dinosaur costumes and performers from various countries. Chan Wang-An, the Nationalist Party mayoral candidate, campaigned at a hardware market, while Vivian Huang, an independent candidate, visited lunch stalls in the market. All three made stops at Taipei’s famous night markets.

The question is how the two main political parties on the island will behave – the nationalist and the active PPP. Since both Tsai and Nationalist Chairman Eric Chu hand-picked candidates, this will affect their standing in the party as well as the party’s strength in the next two years.

“If the DPP loses a lot of county seats, their ability to govern will face a very serious challenge,” said Yu Ying-lung, chairman of the Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation, which regularly conducts public opinion polls on political issues.

The results of the elections will also in a certain way reflect the public’s attitude towards the activities of the ruling party over the past two years, you said.

Observers are also watching to see if Taiwan People’s Party candidates for Taipei Mayor Ko Wenzhe will take the mayoral seat. Koh’s 2024 presidential bid will be affected by his party’s political performance on Saturday, analysts say. Ko has been campaigning with his running mate, independent mayoral candidate Huang, for the past few weeks.

Food stall owner Xiang Fu Mei said he supports Huang.

“We want to see someone international,” he said. “If you look at Singapore, we used to be better than Singapore, but we have fallen behind. Hopefully we can change the direction.”

Others were more apathetic towards the local race. “It feels like everybody’s pretty much the same politically,” said Shawn Tye, 26, a hardware store employee.

Tai declined to say who he is voting for, but wants someone who will boost Taipei’s profile and bring better economic prospects while maintaining China’s status quo. “We don’t want to be completely isolated. I really hope that Taiwan can be seen at the international level,” he said.

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