Chen Chi-mai of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has won the Kaohsiung mayoral by-election, receiving a commanding 70% of the vote.

After former presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu was ousted from the Kaohsiung mayoral office in a historic recall election held in June 2020, contenders from the DPP, the Kuomintang (KMT) and the Taiwan People's Party (TPP) sought to serve out his term, which ends in December 2022.

Chen's victory speech, delivered over a dramatic musical accompaniment, reemphasized his "four big priorities": industrial transformation, increasing job opportunities, investing in transportation infrastructure, and addressing air pollution.

As Kaohsiung is a traditional green DPP stronghold, Chen, formerly Vice Premier, was widely slated to win. Chen prevailed over Jane Lee of the KMT and Wu Yi-jheng of the TPP.

In the closing days of the campaign, each candidate summoned luminaries of Taiwan’s political scene to stump. President Tsai Ing-wen and Premier Su Tseng-chang have graced the stage with Chen, while Han Kuo-yu appeared with Lee in his first public appearance since losing his recall election.

Han's intervention was insufficient to put Lee over the top. A three term Kaohsiung city councilor, she spent the campaign dogged by a plagiarism accusation. Lee's master's thesis is allegedly 96% lifted from other sources.

This was just the most prominent scandal in a campaign marked by perceived blunders, played up in Taiwanese media. In a virtual town hall, Lee responded to pointed questions about Kaohsiung's geography and population by saying that Kaohsiung residents need "sunlight, air, and water." Lee received 25% of the vote.

Wu Yi-jheng of the TPP sought to elevate the profile of a party only founded in 2019 by Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je. He finished in third with about 4% of the vote.

Though the campaign has largely steered clear of pressing ideological questions, one issue that has come to the fore is Kaohsiung's NT$300 billion debt, the highest amount of any city in Taiwan. The three candidates all proposed to undertake financial reforms. Chen in particular has emphasized local inequalities in resource allocation as a means for addressing the debt.

Chen has also pledged to bring back the Megaport Music Festival, an event co-founded by Freddy Lim.

Chen's victory represents a comeback from his surprise loss to Han in the 2018 Kaohsiung mayoral election. He has had a long career in DPP politics, serving in the Cabinets of Presidents Chen Shui-bian and Tsai Ing-wen, along with a brief stint as Kaohsiung's mayor in 2005.

This article was updated at 7:53 p.m. on August 15, 2020.

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