Kuomintang Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) secured his post atop the party as KMT candidates won 14 out of the 23 county magistrate and city mayor seats up for grabs, sending the governing Democratic Progressive Party to a crushing defeat.
In a major gamble, Ma had said on Thursday that he would step down as party chief if the KMT failed to win more than half of the 20 major races in which the KMT was represented.
He now will continue to lead the largest opposition party, with many local media and pundits suggesting that the decisive victory would also boost Ma's chances of winning the presidency in 2008.
The KMT's triumph was spurred in particular by stunning victories in Taipei and Yilan counties and central Chiayi City - areas that have been governed by DPP or anti-KMT administrations for 16, 24 and 38 years, respectively.
"It is not a victory of the KMT. It is a victory of all Taiwan people," declared Ma when he addressed a rally last night at KMT headquarters to celebrate the election victories.
"This is not a case of the Kuomintang defeating the DPP, but of the DPP defeating itself," the popular KMT leader said.
Ma asserted that the election outcome proved that the majority of voters lacked trust in the DPP government, which has been embroiled in several scandals recently, including allegations of corruption implicating two former advisers to President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) during the election campaign.
In contrast to the KMT chairman's joy, DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) announced his resignation from the party's top post to shoulder the blame for the unanticipated setback. Despite intensive campaign rallies and fierce attacks on opponents mounted by President Chen in the closing weeks of the campaign, the result was once again failure, similar to the DPP's disappointing showing in the 2004 legislative elections when Chen also stumped aggressively.
In all, the DPP won only six counties and cities, after winning nine in 2001.
"The election result is a setback for the DPP. It also signals a warning issued by the Taiwan people to the party," Su said in conceding defeat at party headquarters last night.
Chen had been a major presence at DPP campaign rallies around the country, including at least three counties on Friday, but he remained out of view last night after the disastrous election results were announced.
Instead, Chen released a statement saying that he was gratified to see that the efforts of police and election workers in carrying out a peaceful election had been successful. He then called on all those elected and defeated to work together to improve people's well-being after the elections.
Chen may have personally felt the setback as none of the four former DPP government officials picked to run in regional races - Luo Wen-jia (羅文嘉), Chen Ding-nan (陳定南), Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) and Chiu Tai-san (邱太三) - won.
In addition, the internal conflict of DPP partisans in Nantou County between incumbent Magistrate Lin Tseng-nan and former Legislator Tsai Huang-liang (蔡煌瑯) opened the door for KMT challenger Li Chao-ching to win the county's top office. In total, Lin and Tsai combined to receive 144,296 ballots from the county's voters, which was more than the 124,777 votes cast for Li yesterday.
Four DPP incumbents, all in the south, won re-election, while two other DPP administrators, Changhua County Magistrate Wong Chin-chu (翁金珠)and Chiayi City mayor Chen Li-chen (陳麗貞), failed in their re-election battles.
The only real bright spot for the DPP yesterday was winning in Yunlin County. Former DPP Legislator Su Chih-fen (蘇治芬) overcame KMT Legislator Hsu Shu-po (言午舒博)by a margin of 33,502 votes to be the first DPP candidate to be elected magistrate in the central Taiwan county.
This year's election campaign was characterized by widespread mudslinging, while candidates traded accusations with their opponents of buying votes with free meals, gifts and sightseeing trips.
By Friday, prosecutors nationwide had indicted 954 people with alleged vote buying in a record 320 cases, according to the Ministry of Justice.
Apart from the 14 and 6 seats won by the KMT and DPP, the remaining three seats being contested went to KMT pan-blue allies the People First Party in Lienchiang County, the New Party in Kinmen and non-partisan Wu Chun-li (吳俊立), who is close to the KMT, in Taitung County.
Two-thirds, or 66.2 percent, of the country's 13.65 million eligible voters cast ballots yesterday. The Central
KMT triumph leaves DPP with food for thought
Election Commission had expected Friday that yesterday's voter turnout would beat the 66.45 percent registered in the 2001 regional elections.
Polls opened yesterday at 8 a.m. and closed at 4 p.m. The results were unveiled as early as 8:30 pm last night.
Along with yesterday's election of 23 mayors and magistrates, the voters also cast their ballots to choose 901 city and county councilors and 319 township chiefs around the nation.
The KMT also topped the contest of the nation's 901 city and county councilors yesterday by occupying 408 seats, with 192 DPP candidates and another 256 unaffiliated individuals winning most of the remaining seats.
As for the 319 township leaders, KMT candidates won 173 offices, the DPP 35 and 107 were taken by independents.
The results were similar to those recorded in previous elections, indicating that the KMT remains strong at basic levels of government throughout the country.
The elected mayors and magistrates will assume their posts December 20, while those who won councilor and township chief seats will be sworn on March 1 next year.