Fractious five-way race for DPP chairmanship

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 April, 2012, 12:00am

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The fight for the chairmanship of Taiwan's main opposition Democratic Progressive Party has heated up, with an unprecedented five party heavyweights registering for the race.

The election for the pro-independence party's top post is scheduled for May 27.

Analysts and party officials said the battle might aggravate factional struggles within the party and could even cause it to split should campaigning by various camps turn ugly.

Vying for the top post are former Tainan magistrate Su Huan-chih, 56; former vice-premier Wu Rong-I, 72; former premier Su Tseng-chang, 65; former DPP chairman Hsu Hsin-liang, 72; and former DPP legislator Chai Trong-rong, 76.

Su Huan-chih, the first party luminary to announce his bid for the DPP chair, has campaigned under the banner of replacing the old guard - a move a number of the party's supporters believe is a must to give the party a fresh image.

Wu, now head of the pro-independence think tank the Taiwan Brain Trust, surprised others when he registered for the race last week.

Dr Tsai Ing-wen resigned as chairwoman in March after her defeat to incumbent President Ma Ying-jeou, of the Kuomintang, in January's presidential election.

'I decided to run for the DPP chair because I want to restore the party's founding spirit,' Wu told a news conference yesterday. He said the DPP used to have 400,000 members before it was defeated by the KMT in the 2008 presidential election. 'But now the number has reduced to merely 160,000 ... a number of members have lost trust in the party,' he said.

Former premier Su, viewed by most members and pundits as the favourite in the race, has vowed to lead the party to victory in crucial local elections in 2014. But his status as favourite has made him a target for other contenders, especially over his ideological and policy stances. Su is known as a relative moderate on independence for Taiwan, which allows him to advocate a more liberal cross-strait policy than other candidates, according to pundits.

Many party members have questioned his candidacy, suspecting he wants to use the chairmanship as a stepping stone to the presidency. He has not ruled out running in the 2016 presidential election, as the other candidates have done.

On Friday, former DPP chairman Hsu Hsin-liang registered his candidacy, declaring that backing Tsai Ing-wen to run again in the 2016 presidential poll would be one of the major planks of his campaign platform. He said those taking part in the chairmanship race should not harbour presidential ambitions.

Chai, the last to register his candidacy, said he would campaign to free former president Chen Shui-bian and consolidate Taiwan's sovereignty status. Chen, jailed for 17 1/2 years for corruption, is considered a pro-independence icon by many.