Taiwan's president seeks re-election to KMT's top job

Bigwigs line up to endorse Taiwan's leader in party poll he must win

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 June, 2013, 3:50am

The Taiwanese president, Ma Ying-jeou, is seeking re-election as chairman of the ruling Kuomintang party, in what pundits view as a move to keep him from losing political authority before his current presidential term ends in 2016.

Analysts and party officials said Ma was expected to be re-elected, despite being challenged by a potential candidate - a little-known member of the party's Central Standing Committee - but it remains to be seen whether Taiwan's leader would be able to garner strong support as he did during his previous chairmanship race in 2009.

According to the KMT yesterday, the mainland-friendly party will elect a new chairman on July 20. From next Tuesday to June 20, before they can register their candidacy on June 20 and 21, party aspirants must obtain an endorsement from 3 per cent, or about 12,000, of the more than 380,000 members who are eligible to vote.

"I call on all members to take part in the election, which will be conducted in a just, fair and open manner," KMT vice-chairman Tseng Yung-chuan said.

He said another vice-chairman, Chan Chun-po, had resigned from his current post to serve as Ma's campaign manager and assist the island's leader in his re-election bid. "The resignation is to ensure impartiality in the race," Tseng said.

Ma declared his intention to run for re-election last month, saying it could help ensure full co-operation between the party and his administration and smooth governance of the island.

Ma is likely to run in a two-way election. Hsieh Kun-hung, a KMT Central Standing Committee member and a former deputy chief of the cabinet's regional office in central Taiwan, announced his bid in March to run against Ma for the party's top job.

But most onlookers do not expect Hsieh to pose much of a threat to Ma. Several party heavyweights, including Taipei mayor Hau Lung-bin, Taichung mayor Jason Hu, and New Taipei mayor Eric Chu, as well as KMT Speaker Wang Chin-ping, have thrown their support behind Ma.

A group of younger generation members who formed a KMT sub-party called the "567 Alliance", however, have asked Ma to give up his bid, telling him to focus on government administration and to improve the domestic economy, which has been cited as a major cause of public disappointment in the government and Ma's faltering popularity. In recent months, Ma's approval ratings have fluctuated between 13 and 20 per cent, according to various opinion polls.

Taiwanese media also reported that a number of grass-roots members have threatened to teach Ma a lesson by not endorsing his candidacy. They have also said they would cast invalid ballots or even fail to show up for the vote after a series of controversial policies introduced by the Ma administration that upset the public. Among those policies were price rises for fuel and electricity that triggered a public outcry.

A KMT official who declined to be identified said: "[The number of] candidacy endorsements, and the number of votes he receives in the poll, will serve as indicators of how popular Ma is within the party."

More than 100,000 members endorsed Ma to run for KMT chairman in 2009. As the sole candidate at that time, he received 285,354 of 303,987 votes, or 93.87 per cent. Some 18,600 ballots were considered invalid.

Pundits said Ma has his reasons to run for re-election, despite growing opposition from within the grass-roots and younger generation members due to his poor handling of the economy and his low popularity.

"If elected for a second term, Ma can avoid becoming a lame duck before stepping down as president," said Niu Tse-hsun, an associate professor specialising in election campaign literature and political public relations at the Chinese Culture University in Taipei.