TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The party that has ruled Taiwan for the last 45 years lost an election yesterday for control of Taiwan's capital city to an opposition party advocating that the island declare formal independence from China.
But the long-dominant Kuomintang, or Nationalist Party, retained the governorship of Taiwan, thereby offering support to Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui and his policy of gradual rapprochement with mainland China.
The Kuomintang, whose leaders fled China in 1949 after being defeated by the Communists, also kept control of the country's second city, Kaohsiung.
The Democratic Progressive Party was the winner in the capital, PTC Taipei. Although the Democratic Progressive Party played down the issue of independence during the campaign for mayor of Taipei, party members said the victory of candidate Chen Shui-bian would give it an unprecedented platform for its message of Taiwanese independence.
"This changes the political scene in Taiwan," said Dr. Parris H. Chang, a DPP member of the national Parliament and a professor of political science at Penn State University. "We now have a very important city with huge financial resources. It will give us a big boost going into the presidential elections in early 1996,"
Dr. Chang said the DPP would push for a nationwide vote on declaring formal independence from the mainland. China still claims Taiwan as part of its territory and has threatened to use force if the island announced independence.
The Kuomintang, which has gradually relaxed its chokehold over political life on this island and allowed democracy to take root, was faced with defeat in Taipei ever since some of its members broke away earlier this year to create a third political force, called the New Party.
In fact, the Kuomintang finished third in Taipei, after the DPP and the New Party. The DPP captured the capital with 43.6 percent of the vote for Chen Shui-bian, against 30.5 percent for the New Party, and 25.9 percent for the Kuomintang incumbent.
In the provincial race, which covered 85 percent of Taiwan's territory, the Kuomintang candidate won easily over the DPP. The New Party's candidate, best known as a member of a Parliament who beat up other representatives, finished a distant third.
Although observers said that the elections were fair, they were marred by scuffles and name-calling. Earlier in the campaign, supporters of rival parties sometimes brawled at public events.
Vote-buying also took place but apparently on a smaller scale than in previous elections. The Kuomintang, which is widely identified with buying votes in rural areas, seems to be abandoning that tactic -- the opposition has successfully used it as an example of the Kuomintang's corruption.
More problematic to Taiwan's democratic development, the main Taiwan television stations did not give equal time last night to the DPP even in reporting the election results.
Mr. Chen's victory speech was suddenly cut off the air in favor of a speech by a representative of the Kuomintang.
In his speech, Mr. Chen said that the vote had "changed the history of Taiwan.
"This country has been run by one party for too long. Now we have a chance to show that another party can do better. We have this unique chance, and we must do our best not to let people down."