Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou appears to be facing a leadership test as Kuomintang chairman even before he officially assumes the post. Yeh Chin-chuan, a confidant, came under fire for quitting as health minister to run for the Hualien county magistracy despite an increase in swine flu cluster infections. Maverick members also defied the party's will by announcing their plans to run for year-end local government polls without KMT approval. Political analysts said the challenges Mr Ma faced could be bigger than he had originally thought, but this was a political risk he would have to take after he chose to break his promise by doubling as the party leader. Mr Ma, who won the party's top post in an uncontested race on July 26, is scheduled to be sworn in as chairman on September 12. In a hastily called news conference yesterday, Dr Yeh announced his bid to run in the KMT primary. 'Premier Liu Chao-shiuan has already approved my resignation,' Dr Yeh said. 'After all, being the health minister was originally not in my career plan.' His resignation statement drew fire from some members of the public and legislators from both ruling and opposition parties. 'This was very bad timing in making such a bad decision,' KMT legislator Chiu Yi said. 'In the outbreak of swine flu in Taiwan, including reports of the first fatality as well as cluster infections involving more than 600, [Dr Yeh's] resignation means being elected is more important than controlling the epidemic.' Legislator Huang Wei-che of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party said: 'Yeh is free to choose whether to run for the magistracy in Hualien, but he should never have abandoned his duty before the flu outbreak was brought under control, and this means Ma is more concerned about winning an election.' A KMT official close to nomination strategy said that although the KMT had long favoured Dr Yeh to run for the post, it had taken him too long to announce his intention. Taiwanese media said Mr Ma was behind Dr Yeh's election bid as he wanted to reform the century-old party by eradicating its grubby politics and introducing men of integrity to improve its image. A former deputy of Mr Ma during his tenure as Taipei mayor, Dr Yeh is known for his clean image and his efforts to fight severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003 in Taiwan. Although the Presidential Office denied Mr Ma had asked Dr Yeh to run, five other KMT aspirants said they did not care whether Mr Ma was backing Dr Yeh or not. The official close to strategy expressed the worry it could lose control of at least four counties in addition to Hualien in the year-end local polls. 'President Ma wants to field candidates with clean images for the year-end polls, but mavericks and local faction leaders in Hualien, Hsinchu, Taitung, Taoyuan and Ilan counties have either threatened or ignored the party's will, creating risks of split votes in the local elections,' the official said. Commentator Liu Chun-yao said Mr Ma must prepare for an electoral setback for dropping the faction leaders who carry more weight in local constituencies.