Taiwan Voters Oust Beijing-Friendly Mayor in Historic Recall Election

By Frank Fang
Frank Fang
Frank Fang
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers US, China, and Taiwan news. He holds a master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.
June 6, 2020Updated: June 20, 2020

TAIPEI, Taiwan—A Beijing-friendly mayor in Taiwan who was the opposition candidate in this year’s presidential race has been voted out of office after an unprecedented recall election on June 6.

More than 939,000 people voted to remove Han Kuo-yu, the mayor of southern Taiwan’s city of Kaohsiung and a member of the Kuomintang (KMT) party, for being “unfit” for office. About 25,000 people voted against Han’s recall. The voting turnout was about 42 percent.

Han is the first Taiwanese official ever to be removed this way.

He conceded defeat in a TV broadcast, blaming the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) for mobilizing an attack campaign against him since May.

“It’s unfortunate that our team have been constantly discredited, facing distorted, slanderous, and unfounded criticism,” Han said.

More than 40 percent of the eligible 2.29 million voters voted for Han to step down—well above the 570,000 votes required to remove him under local electoral law.

Han was put on the recall ballot after local civic groups, led by WeCare Kaohsiung, collected more than 370,000 signatures in a petition drive in the city that ended in early April. The collected signatures were then handed over to Taiwan’s Central Election Commission, who then approved and scheduled a date for the recall election.

The recall effort was driven in part because of local anger about how Han took a monthslong leave of absence to run for president, less than a year after he was elected mayor in November 2018. Locals were unhappy about how Han failed to fulfill his mayoral campaign promises to improve Kaohsiung and was instead more focused on his presidential campaign.

Han was nominated by the KMT in July 2019 to run for the January 2020 presidential election. He then suffered a landslide defeat to Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen of the DPP.

At a local rally late June 6, Aaron Yin, the founder of Wecare Kaohsiung, said: “We want the local politicians to know it is the people who give you the power. If you do a poor job, if you betray the people, the people can take back the power given to you.”

While running for mayor and the president, Han repeatedly called for the island’s greater economic integration with China. The Chinese regime’s state media have previously praised Han because of his efforts at “advancing cross-strait relations.”

Meanwhile, Tsai is known for taking a tougher stance against the Chinese regime, particularly her strong opposition to Beijing’s proposal to rule Taiwan under the “one country, two systems” model. The model is currently used in Hong Kong since the city’s sovereignty was handed over from Britain to China in 1997.

Beijing has proposed the idea of using this model to govern Taiwan, as it views the self-ruled island as its territory, despite the fact that Taiwan has its own military, currency, and democratically-elected officials.


In Han’s concession remarks, he didn’t say whether he would challenge the recall results. Later, the head of the city’s information bureau didn’t answer when asked by local reporters about Han’s next move.

The Central Election Commission will formally announce the final vote tally in the next seven days, according to local government-run Central News Agency (CNA). Then Taiwan’s central government will name a person to take up the mayoral position in Kaohsiung, and a by-election for a new mayor will be held within the next three months.

However, if Han were to challenge the recall results in court, a by-election would be delayed until after the court verdict.

Taiwan’s Executive Yuan, which is the executive branch of the Taiwanese government, said the recall showed the world how Taiwan is a mature democracy, in a statement after the election results.

The successful recall has implications for Hong Kong, said Tun Li-wen, a China expert at a local institute called Taiwan Think Tank, in an interview with the Taiwan branch of NTD, an affiliate of The Epoch Times.

The regime recently imposed a national security law for the city, which critics say marks the end to Hong Kong’s autonomy that was supposed to be guaranteed by Beijing under the “one country, two systems” framework.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will be more determined to suppress Hong Kong after seeing the recall results because it fears what democracy would bring, Tun said.

More specifically, Tun pointed to Hong Kong’s next Legislative Council (LegCo) elections scheduled for September. If pro-democracy candidates were to win more than half of the 70-seat LegCo, the CCP would likely use the national security law to intimidate and control LegCo, so lawmakers wouldn’t initiate any bills that might upset Beijing.

Beijing’s rubber-stamp legislature adopted the national security law after a ceremonial vote on May 28. The law criminalizes activities in connection to subversion, secession, foreign interference, and terrorism. It will take effect in Hong Kong after Beijing drafts the details of the legislation.

The LegCo elections are considered another referendum on the pro-Beijing Hong Kong government headed by Carrie Lam, after pro-democracy candidates scored a landslide victory in the city’s district council elections in November 2019.