Tsai Ing-Wen

The real battle still looms for DPP veteran

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 May, 2012, 12:00am


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Taiwan's main opposition Democratic Progressive Party elects a new chairman tomorrow, setting the scene for a tilt at the presidential election in 2016.

Some 160,000 members of the pro-independence party will choose its chairman from five candidates, with the winner tasked with wresting power from the Kuomintang, which has governed since Ma Ying-jeou won the presidency in 2008.

Dr Tsai Ing-wen resigned as party chairwoman in March to take responsibility for her defeat in January's presidential election, and Kaohsiung mayor Chen Chu has been acting chairwoman since then.

Former premier Su Tseng-chang, 65, is the pre-poll favourite, given his political influence and comparatively broad power base. Analysts say his four competitors either lack his heavyweight status or do not have such broad support.

'In terms of political and administrative experience, none of Su's competitors are able to challenge him,' said Wang Kung-yi, a professor at Tamkang University in Taipei.

Su, a former lawyer and a founding member of the DPP in 1986, served as magistrate of Pingtung county in southern Taiwan and then Taipei county in the north before becoming premier between 2006 and 2007, during the reign of disgraced president Chen Shui-bian, now serving a jail sentence for corruption.

Su was also DPP chairman from 2004 to 2005. Shortly after he announced his bid for the chairmanship in April, he became the target of attacks from other contenders.

'He must promise that he will not run for the 2016 presidency if he wants to take the chairmanship,' said 71-year-old Hsu Hsing-liang, also a former DPP chairman and a former Taoyuan magistrate.

Hsu, who surprised the rest of the field by declaring his candidacy shortly before the close of registration, said Su should not seek to use the chairmanship as a springboard for his 2016 presidential ambitions.

Hsu, who wants Tsai to contest the presidency again in 2016, admitted he was running mainly to back Tsai and stop Su from using the post to become its presidential nominee.

The other contenders - former Tainan magistrate Su Huan-chih, ex-DPP legislator Chai Trong-rong and former vice-premier Wu Rong-I - echoed Hsu's call for the winner to refrain from contesting the presidency.

They have all declared they will not seek the DPP's presidential nomination and have called on Su Tseng-chang to do the same.

Su, seemingly unperturbed, said he did not want to argue with anyone over something that had yet to occur.

'If elected chairman, what I care about is whether I can lead the party to win the 2014 elections,' he said, referring to elections for the island's five municipalities, various councils and neighbourhoods.

Su's rivals have also questioned his pro-independence credentials, citing his pragmatism in dealing with the mainland.

'He has never clearly and publicly pronounced his pro-independence stand,' said Yao Chia-wen, the former head of the island's top civil service watchdog.

Taiwanese media have said that the hardcore pro-independence camp does not really trust Su and spurred Chai and Wu to contest the chairmanship.

Su's refusal to join in calls for the Ma government to grant amnesty to Chen has been another lightning rod for criticism.

The four other candidates have called for Ma to grant amnesty to Chen, but Su has only supported his release on medical parole, given that Chen still faces other trials.

Wang, the professor, expects the former premier to win a landslide.

'Compared with the other candidates, he is the most influential and he has very broad support from all over Taiwan. For Beijing ... the mainland authorities will still prefer a Su victory, given that he is not as radical as Chen Shui-bian.'