TAIWAN

New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu to run for Kuomintang chairman

Eric Chu, mayor of New Taipei City, puts his hand up for Kuomintang chairman but rules out a bid for the island's presidency in 2016

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 December, 2014, 6:06pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 December, 2014, 2:54am

New Taipei City mayor Eric Chu Li-luan has put his hat in the ring to be chairman of the Kuomintang, a move observers said would help cement his status as the ruling party's new hope after its rout in last month's local elections.

Chu, 53, declared his plans to run on Facebook, saying he was entering the race to return the party to its former glory.

But Chu, who is the only KMT political star tagged as a presidential hopeful for 2016, said he would not run for the presidency.

"I greatly appreciate the citizens of New Taipei City for giving me another chance and in return I will do my best to do a good job and remain in the post for the next four years," Chu said. "For this I will not run for president."

Chu was the last major KMT mayor standing after the ruling party's electoral defeat.

He had been expected to win in a landslide but he just managed to squeak past his Democratic Progressive Party opponent Yu Shyi-kun by some 20,000 votes.

The KMT lost nine of the cities and counties, including three key municipalities, it used to hold, prompting President Ma Ying-jeou to resign as the party's chairman.

"The KMT must rebuild its core values, propose fair and just financial, taxation and legal regulations, and create a fairer distribution of wealth," Chu said in answer to criticism that the KMT was out of touch.

The island's ever-widening wealth gap and lack of jobs for young people were seen as major reasons for the defeat. Chu also called for a referendum on the constitution to put the cabinet - rather than the president - at the centre of government power.

Taiwan has a dual-leadership system in which the president appoints a cabinet head, who is responsible for the government's performance.

Chu also proposed lowering the voting age to 18 from 20 to allow more young people to become part of the electoral process.

His bid has the backing of 36 KMT legislators and various party bigwigs, including outgoing Taichung mayor Jason Hu Chih-chiang, outgoing Taipei mayor Hau Lung-bin and legislature deputy speaker Hung Hsiu-chu.

But Hung asked Chu to leave room to run in 2016. "There is no need to say anything that cannot be altered," she said.

Wang Kung-yi, professor of international affairs and strategic studies at Tamkang University in Taipei, said Chu chose his words wisely. "[If he hadn't ruled out a presidential bid] others would suspect that he might use the chairmanship as a stepping stone to the presidency," Wang said.

Analysts also said that a shift to the cabinet system would automatically make the leader of the winning party in a general election the cabinet head, so Chu would only need to be KMT chairman to fill the top cabinet post in the event of a KMT victory.

Earlier in the day, an aide applied on Chu's behalf for the chairman race, completing the paperwork to make the New Taipei City mayor the first to register.

Five other KMT members, including Taipei city councillor Lee Hsin, and Clara Chou, a long-time critic of the KMT, also tried to apply but both were rejected. Lee did not have the NT$2 million (HK$496,000) guarantee deposit, and Chou was "not qualified".