The KMT chairman hands over reins of city with no regrets Kuomintang chairman Ma Ying-jeou took heart yesterday from his party's victory in the council elections in Taiwan's two biggest cities as he stepped down as Taipei mayor to focus solely on party affairs. The KMT's Wu Pi-chu was re-elected speaker of Taipei City Council and party comrade Chuang Chi-wang took the council speaker post in the southern city of Kaohsiung. Mr Ma had been criticised by councillors of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party for dividing his time between the Taipei city government and party affairs after becoming chairman of the island's main opposition party in August last year. He officially handed over his mayoral post to the KMT's Hau Lung-bin - the winner of the December 9 election for mayor of the island's capital - during a ceremony at the city government office yesterday. 'I don't have any regret leaving the post today,' Mr Ma said during the ceremony. He added that he believed his successor would continue to lead an efficient and clean administration in Taipei. Mr Ma, who has completed two four-year terms as mayor, was given a 'hero's farewell' by hundreds of supporters and his former city government colleagues, who asked him to run for the presidency in 2008. Mr Ma is the opposition's best hope for the 2008 presidential poll but his candidacy is under threat from KMT legislature speaker Wang Jin-pyng after a recent plunge in Mr Ma's popularity rating from a high of over 80 per cent to 54 per cent. The KMT chairman has seen his support rating recede after twice ordering the forceful dispersal of opposition protesters against scandal-plagued President Chen Shui-bian between September and October. In addition, Mr Ma's ability to manage in a crisis and lead the island has come under scrutiny after he was implicated in a scandal over the embezzlement of special government allowances. Mr Ma was sued by a DPP legislator in August for alleged embezzlement but failed to mount damage-control efforts until months later. Some KMT officials have said Mr Ma's problem is that he is not crafty enough to be a political leader and that he mainly consults his own men from the city government rather than those from within the KMT. 'It is necessary for him to pay more attention to winning support and trust from within the party,' KMT legislator Joanna Lei Chien said. Mr Ma appeared to heed her advice, succeeding in persuading KMT councillor Chiang Lai-hsing to withdraw from the contest for the Taipei council's vice-speaker post yesterday in order to avoid a party split. Mr Chiang's withdrawal allowed KMT nominee Chen Chin-hsiang to defeat DPP opponent Chou Po-ya in the vice-speaker poll. Analysts said the victories in the council speaker and vice-speaker elections as well as Mr Ma's support yesterday for the removal of former KMT Keelung mayor Hsu Tsai-li from office were the first test of Mr Ma's ability to shape himself as the real leader of the KMT. Mr Ma campaigned for Mr Hsu last year, but Mr Hsu was later found guilty of corruption. 'He [Mr Ma] has more to do, including pushing for more reforms, if he is to secure his party leadership and the KMT nomination for the 2008 presidential polls,' said political analyst Philip Yang Yung-ming of the Taiwan Security Research Centre. Meanwhile, the DPP's Chen Chu took over from acting mayor Yeh Chu-lan as head of the Kaohsiung City Government yesterday. Ms Chu defeated her KMT opponent Huang Chun-ying in the December 9 polls by a wafer-thin margin. The result is being contested by Mr Huang, who has asked the courts to order a recount and nullify the election result.