While mainland Chinese media has been congratulating Taiwan’s Kuomintang party on its overwhelming victory in last weekend’s regional elections, observers warn that unification may not be a big issue with the new regional governments.

Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party was routed during the weekend’s regional elections. The party’s candidates held a mere six cities and counties from a total of 22 that were up for grabs in the island’s mayoral and county magistrate races.

The Beijing-friendly Kuomintang party effectively erased the ignominy of its last election defeat four years ago, winning in 15 cities and counties throughout the island. Their victories included a landmark sweep in Kaohsiung as KMT candidate Han Kuo-yu single-handedly smashed the DPP’s decades-long dominance of the island’s second largest city.

President Tsai Ing-wen, also chairwoman of the independence-leaning DPP, resigned as party chief to take responsibility for the humiliating drubbing.

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Taiwan regional election results by cities and counties in 2014 and 2018. Constituents shown in blue represent wins by the KMT, while those in green mean wins by the DPP.  Photo: Central News Agency of Taiwan
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Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen (center) apologizes for her party’s election defeat and resigned as chairwoman of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party. Photo: Getty Images
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The KMT’s Han Kuo-yu, an orator with a knack for engaging young voters via social networking platforms, has become the first non-DPP mayor of Kaohsiung in decades. The second largest city of Taiwan used to be a bastion of the DPP. Photo: Facebook

In Beijing, Communist Party mouthpieces and cadres in charge of Taiwan affairs were quick to conclude the results were indicative of pro-reunification sentiments among Taiwanese, and that it would be difficult for the US to continue to meddle in the island’s politics under changing regional dynamics.

A spokesperson with the Chinese State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office noted on Sunday that the results reflected Taiwanese’s strong will to share the benefits of peaceful development across the Taiwan Strait as well as their aversion to the DPP’s “desinicization.”

Tsai will only lean more on the US for her own survival and that of the DPP, but Taiwanese voters have realized that peaceful development is the right path for the island, and their demand for economic development and better livelihoods will counter the influence the US can exert by playing the Taiwan card, said the Global Times in an op-ed.

Analysts said the likelihood of Tsai running for a second term in the 2020 presidential race was now slim and she can only serve out her remaining time as a lame duck. Beijing will likely continue to bypass the Tsai administration to further double down on KMT officials at municipal levels for more city-to-city exchanges and pro-reunification campaigns.

Beijing may also hedge its bets with Taipei’s re-elected mayor Ko Wen-je as well as the KMT’s Kaohsiung mayor as frontrunners to contend in the 2020 and future presidential elections to stave off whoever the DPP fields.

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The KMT’s new mayor of Kaohsiung Han Kuo-yu (left) and Taipei’s re-elected mayor Ko Wen-je. Photos: Facebook

In its official response to Beijing, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council highlighted the danger of misjudging voters’ sentiments.

“[The mainland] should neither interfere in our internal affairs, nor unilaterally interpret the expectations of Taiwanese, or they may risk misjudging the cross-strait situation,” reads the council’s statement.

Observers in Taiwan pointed out that the KMT’s wins should not be read as tantamount for a win for reunification with China, as unlike presidential races, a candidate’s stance on cross-strait ties may take a back seat in regional elections, where debates normally center around economic and livelihood issues.

Meanwhile, the Tsai administration could seek to put the newly-elected KMT mayors and county magistrate on a tight leash with several ongoing probes into Beijing’s interference as well as alleged vote-rigging cases.

Before the elections, Taiwan sounded the alarm at a campaign by Beijing to spread volleys of misinformation in cyberspace on the self-ruled island known for its freedom of speech.

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