Taiwan Opposition Taps Party Chief as Presidential Candidate

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Taiwan’s opposition Democratic Progressive Party nominated Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen to run in the island’s next presidential election, to be held in January.

Tsai, 58, led an unsuccessful DPP ticket in 2012 against the Kuomintang, or Nationalist, party’s incumbent President Ma Ying-jeou, who was re-elected to a second term. Since taking office in 2008, Ma has broadened investment, trade and transport links with China, and oversaw the first government-to-government meeting on cross-strait relations since 1949.

Ma’s two terms have stood in sharp relief from that of his predecessor, the DPP’s Chen Shui-bian, who advocated formal independence for Taiwan and incited the fury of Beijing. During Chen’s presidency, China passed a law authorizing the use of force against Taiwan if the territory should declare formal independence.

A former minister for mainland China affairs, Tsai studied law at the London School of Economics and Cornell University, and served as a trade negotiator for Taiwan. Last year, at least 40 opposition party members called for a freeze on the independence clause of the party’s platform, a stance which, by at least one estimate, cost the DPP nearly 6 percentage points in Tsai’s defeat in 2012. Tsai last month said the DPP pledges to safeguard peaceful relations with China if it returns to power in 2016.

“The biggest problem this country faces is its leader,” Tsai said at a press briefing Wednesday in Taipei to kick off her campaign. “We need all the resolve we can muster to change this situation.”

Ma’s leadership attracted broad criticism last year after a trade deal with China failed to clear the island’s legislature and sparked weeks of controversy about Taiwan’s economic dependence on China. Students organized a 24-day occupation of Taiwan’s legislative chamber in protest against the trade agreement in addition to a bevy of other grievances, from stagnant wages to high property prices.

In a hypothetical contest against Kuomintang Chairman Eric Chu, Tsai would lead with 42 percent public support, the United Daily News reported Wednesday, citing a poll it conducted earlier this month. Chu would garner 34 percent support out of about 1,000 adults surveyed, the poll showed.

The Kuomintang will begin its nomination process April 20 and choose its candidate by June 17, the party said in a statement on its website.

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