Taiwan Ruling Party Ousts Presidential Candidate Before Election

  • Kuomintang Chairman Eric Chu replaces lawmaker Hung Hsiu-chu
  • Opposition chairwoman polling ahead in Jan. 16 president vote

Taiwan’s ruling party took the unprecedented step of replacing its presidential nominee, appointing chairman Eric Chu to take the place of Hung Hsiu-chu on concern approval ratings were weak.

Of the 891 delegates at the Kuomintang party extraordinary party congress in Taipei Saturday, 812 voted to drop Hung as presidential nominee. Hung, the second highest-ranking member of Taiwan’s legislature, was nominated in July. Her removal means Taiwan won’t have its first two-woman presidential contest.

This is the first time the party of the Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek has replaced a presidential candidate. Members voted to change the nomination in an attempt to salvage their position in presidential and legislative races scheduled for Jan. 16, 2016. Opposition Democratic Progressive Party Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen has led consistently in local polling since stepping into the ring in April.

“The key reason for KMT to change its nominee is that they are pressured by lawmakers to win legislative election,” Wang Yeh-lih, a professor at National Taiwan University’s department of political science, said by phone Friday. “Even though KMT is still unlikely to win the presidential election with Chu replacing Hung, they believe they will have better chances in legislative races. But I think they are too optimistic, because the discombobulation within KMT and change of nominee may still negatively impact their seats in legislative yuan in the end.”

With less than eight months left in embattled President Ma Ying-jeou’s second and final term, disarray in the KMT has reached a fever pitch. The party suffered its worst-ever local election losses last November, prompting party heavyweights such as Chu, Vice President Wu Den-yih, and legislature leader Wang Jin-pyng to pass on a 2016 run for the government’s top job.

As the new nominee, the 54-year-old Chu is expected to support a more ambiguous version of the cross-strait relationship than Hung, who suggested China and Taiwan should sign a peace treaty and move toward mutual recognition. The view was criticized by Chu and other party members, as being out of step with the “mainstream” preference for the status quo.

"KMT must keep majority seats in legislature yuan, otherwise cross-strait peace may be lost," Chu said in a briefing after the meeting. He apologized to Hung and to the citizens of New Taipei City where he is also the mayor and said the KMT party had to make this decision because it was a key moment for Taiwan.

Though the frontrunner Tsai, 59, supports maintaining the status quo and continued exchanges with China, her DPP doesn’t accept the one-China framework saying China and Taiwan are parts of the same country. Beijing has called it a crucial cornerstone of the cross-strait relationship.

In addition to electing a new president to succeed Ma, Taiwan voters will also elect 113 lawmakers in January. The KMT currently has a majority, with 65 seats, compared to the DPP’s 40 seats.

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