Taiwan holds local elections as world watches

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Taiwan holds local elections as world watches

On Saturday, the local elections in Taiwan opened in a framed election by President Tsai Ing-wen as a message to the world about the island's determination to defend its democracy in the face of China's rising bellicosity.

The local elections for city mayors, county chiefs and local councillors are ostensibly about domestic issues such as the Covid-19 epidemic and crime, and those elected don't have a direct say on China policy.

Tsai has recast the election as more than a local poll, saying the world is watching how Taiwan defends its democracy amid military tensions with China, which claims the island is its territory.

In August, China held war games near Taiwan to express its anger at a visit by then US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taipei and its military activities have continued, though on a reduced scale.

Taiwan's main opposition party, the Kuomintang, or KMT, swept the 2018 local elections and accused Tsai and the DPP of being overly confrontational with China. The KMT supports closer ties with China but strongly denies being pro-Beijing.

The election will take place a month after the end of the 20th Congress of China's Communist Party, where President Xi Jinping has secured an unprecedented third term in office, a point Tsai has repeatedly made on the campaign trail.

Although the outcome of the election will be an important measure of popular support for both parties, it can't be used as an imgur for the next presidential and parliamentary elections in 2024.

Tsai and the DPP defeated the KMT in 2020 despite their setback in the 2018 local polls. Her second term in office runs out in 2024 and she can't stand as president again because of term limits.

Both parties have focused their efforts on wealthy and populous northern Taiwan, especially the capital, Taipei, whose current mayor, from the small Taiwan People's Party, can't stand again after two terms in office.

Taiwanese elections are raucous and colourful, with candidates traveling their districts on the backs of trucks and SUVs seeking support, with music blaring and campaign flags fluttering.

There is a vote on lowering the voting age to 18 from 20, which both parties support.

The results of the election should be clear by the early evening on Saturday.