Taiwan Ruling Party Considers Dumping Presidential Candidate

  • Hung trails opposition's Tsai by 25% before January election
  • Nominee seen to be out of step with public on mainland ties

Taiwan’s ruling party may take the unprecedented step of replacing its presidential nominee three months before election day as it tries to reverse a 25 percentage point lead by the main opposition candidate.

The Kuomintang party will hold an extraordinary congress to “strengthen the party’s consensus,” it said Wednesday in an e-mailed statement, without being more specific. The meeting will determine if lawmaker Hung Hsiu-chu should be replaced as the nominee by party Chairman Eric Chu,  the Taipei-based Apple Daily reported.

Hung’s popularity has been damaged by perceptions she supports closer ties with mainland China than most people in Taiwan. If Chu replaces Hung, he may struggle to close the gap given lingering dissatisfaction with outgoing President Ma Ying-jeou’s administration.

“Everyone is quite shocked by this event,” said Joanna Lei, chief executive of the Chunghua 21st Century Think Tank and an adviser to the Kuomintang presidential candidates in 2004 and 2008. “Lots of people believe that while there may be practical considerations, the act itself shows chaotic party politics and will be a disappointment to the public.”

The special congress is likely to be held either Oct. 17 or 24, Apple Daily reported, citing unidentified KMT officials.

Relations with Mainland

Some 21 percent of 1,130 respondents to a TVBS poll conducted this month supported Hung, compared with 46 percent for her main rival, Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party, the cable network said Tuesday. KMT legislators up for election have been concerned with the impact of Hung’s candidacy on their own races, Chu said in comments carried on Sanlih E-Television Wednesday.

Though rumors about moves to replace Hung have regularly appeared in news reports since her nomination in July, she said in a statement Wednesday she was “confused” by the decision to call the special congress and believes it will “endanger” the party.

In a press conference Wednesday evening in Taipei, Hung said that while she is willing to discuss her views on mainland relations with the rest of the KMT, “I will stay firm on my own beliefs.”

Hung’s nomination occurred after Chu and other senior KMT leaders -- including Vice President Wu Den-yih and legislative leader Wang Jin-pyng -- chose to stay on the sidelines. The KMT was trounced in local elections last November. Hung, a school teacher before becoming a legislator, is the KMT’s first female presidential candidate.

The elections on Jan. 16 may have repercussions for Taiwan’s relationship with China, which has blossomed during Ma’s two terms in office. Tsai’s DPP doesn’t accept that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are part of one country. The Communist Party in Beijing sees that understanding as crucial to improving ties across the Taiwan Strait.

While Hung supporters are unlikely to vote for another party’s candidate, Chu’s shot at the presidency will be limited by party infighting and any burdens inherited from Ma’s eight years in office, Liao Da-chi, a professor at National Sun Yat-sen University’s Institute of Political Science, said Wednesday.

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