Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou named Wu Den-yih as running mate for his re-election bid, betting the more-popular incumbent premier will help him stave off growing support for the opposition in next year’s election.
Wu, a former mayor of southern Kaohsiung City, was appointed premier in September 2009. The current Vice President Vincent Siew announced last month he won’t seek nomination for next year’s election. The Jan. 14 election will pit Ma and Wu, from the ruling Kuomintang, against the Democratic Progress Party’s Tsai Ing-wen, who has yet to announce her running mate.
Ma, 60, faces declining support as backing for his pro-China policy weakens and the DPP gains with its pro-independence platform. Wu has maintained his popularity as premier and may help the KMT win back voters in southern Taiwan where the opposition is favored.
“The pick strikes me as a shrewd move to win over the middle,” Erik Lueth, an economist at Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc in Hong Kong, said. “President Ma has strong pro-business credentials, including by promoting warmer cross-strait relations. By appointing someone with strong roots in the south, he may not win over hardcore DPP voters but appeal to the center.”
Wu, 63, had a job-approval rating of 38.5 percent in May, higher than Ma’s 33.9 percent, according to the Global Views Monthly research centre. His disapproval rating stands at 48.2 percent, according to the May poll of 1,002 people with a margin of error of 3.1 percent.
“Because he is from the grassroots and held local positions for a long time, he has a good understanding of local people,” Ma said at a press conference yesterday to announce Wu’s appointment. “He has a compassion for citizens that’s a very important characteristic for those of us in government.”
Wu became premier after his predecessor, Liu Chao-shiuan, and the entire cabinet resigned over the slow response to Typhoon Morakot that killed more than 600 people.
He earlier served as mayor of Kaohsiung for two terms from 1990 to 1998, and was also a legislator from 2002 to 2009. He was the general secretary of the KMT from February 2007 to October 2007.
Wu worked as a journalist after graduating from the National Taiwan University and before being elected a member of the Taipei City council at 25. After serving for eight years, he returned to his home in Nantou County in central Taiwan and became the county magistrate from 1981 to 1989.
Ma, also KMT chairman, returned his party to power in 2008 after the DPP’s eight years in office saw increased tensions with China, Taiwan’s largest trading partner and biggest political rival. The KMT had ruled Taiwan for more than 50 years after retreating to the island following the party’s defeat at the hand of Mao Zedong’s communists.
Though political rivals, the KMT and Communist Party are united in their one-China policy, while local Taiwanese like Tsai have increasingly sought international recognition of Taiwan’s independent status. Ma’s administration has signed 15 economic agreements with Beijing in a policy that Tsai has derided as “boxed in a frame set by China.”
The benchmark Taiex index, which has gained 15 percent in the past year, fell 0.1 percent as of 10:54 a.m. in Taipei. The Taiwan dollar appreciated 0.2 percent to NT$28.935 against its U.S. counterpart.
Support for Ma’s initiatives have faded in the past two years, with 32.3 percent of respondents in the Global Views Monthly poll last month considering his cross-strait policy a “failure,” compared with 24.2 percent in May 2009, while 49.9 percent view it as a “success,” from 53.4 percent two years earlier.
Tsai, 54, who separately held posts of vice premier and Mainland Affairs Council chairwoman during Chen Shui-bian’s 2000-2008 administration, has benefited from the discord among voters, according to a May survey by the TVBS Polling Center.
The DPP is concerned Ma’s policies may put Taiwan’s sovereignty at stake as he pushes for closer economic ties with the mainland.
Ma would gain 45 percent of votes to Tsai’s 44 percent, the TVBS survey of 1,006 people conducted May 16 to 19 showed. Tsai’s support surpassed Ma’s among those aged 20-39, and in southern Taiwan, according to the poll, which had a 3.1 percent margin of error.
In the 2008 presidential election, the KMT beat the DPP 58 percent to 42 percent by pledging direct flights to China, lifting of investment restrictions by Taiwanese companies and allowing more Chinese visitors to travel to Taiwan.
China regards Taiwan as part of its territory and has threatened to attack if it declares formal independence. Taiwan will hold legislative elections concurrently with the presidential ballot.