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Hung Hsiu-chu greets the press after being elected chairwoman Taiwan's Kuomintang Party. Photo: CNA.

Taiwan's ousted presidential nominee Hung Hsiu-chu elected as Kuomintang's first woman leader

Forsaken by the party in her bid to run in last year’s disastrous presidential elections, it now tasks her with rebuilding its fortunes from the ashes

Tsai Ing-wen

Members of Taiwan’s beleaguered Kuomintang have redeemed former deputy legislature speaker Hung Hsiu-chu by electing her the first female leader of the century-old party during a by-election on Sunday.

Analysts, however, said it remained to be seen whether Hung could emulate the success of Tsai Ing-wen, who led the once collapsing pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party back to power following the jailing of former DPP chairman and president Chen Shui-bian for corruption.

President Xi Jinping congratulated from Beijing, hoping the KMT will continue to cooperate with the Communist Party in upholding the 1992 consensus and oppose Taiwan Independence.

But awaiting Hung is a series of tough challenges, not the least how to put the embattled party – which suffered its worst ever electoral defeat in January – back on its feet.

The mainland-friendly Hung, 67, captured 78,829 votes, or more than 56 per cent of votes cast, beating acting chairwoman Huang Min-hui by 23 percentage points and two other competitors to win the top post in the fiercely fought four-way election.

In October, in the middle of running for president, she was abruptly stripped of her nomination by the KMT so that former chairman Eric Chu could run for president in January. But the late showing Chu failed to stop his opponent Tsai Ing-wen and her DPP colleagues winning crushing victories in in presidential and parliament polls. Chu later resigned as chairman to take responsibility for the electoral rout, which for the first time saw the KMT lose its parliamentary majority.

From the first brick, I will lead all of you to rebuild our home from the ruins
Hung Hsiu-chu, new KMT chairwoman

“I must thank for the firm support by so many of my fellow party members, who are willing to trust me,” she said at the KMT headquarters shortly after the election result was announced.

“From the first brick, I will lead all of you to rebuild our home from the ruins … and eventually stage a comeback for the party despite all odds,” she said, adding she would never forget the time when many of her supporters cried with her.

Taiwan's outgoing President Ma Ying-jeou , prepares to cast his ballot for the KMT ‘s new chairman. Photo: AP
She was referring to her being removal from the party’s nomination, which she won in July when no men from the party showed up to announce their presidency bids in the face of a likely victory by Tsai due to public disappointment over the KMT government’s failure to improve the economy and perceive the public’s mood.

Analysts said there is no time for Hung to celebrate as she must immediately deal with a spate of thorny issues, including the KMT’s multibillion dollar party assets that are constantly under criticised by the public, frequent infighting among local factions, debates over whether the party should define itself as the Taiwanese KMT instead of KMT dating back to its time on the mainland in the first half of last century.

“Her most important task is to introduce reforms to rejuvenate the staggering party, which is obviously out of touch with what young people are thinking and doing today,” said Wang Kung-yi, a professor at Tamkang University’s Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies in Taipei.

Given that Hung is a staunch supporter of the 1992 consensus, Wang said Beijing was certain to maintain a firm relationship with the KMT despite its serious setbacks.

Her most important task is to introduce reforms to rejuvenate the staggering party, which is obviously out of touch with what young people are thinking and doing today
Wang Kung-yi, Tamkang University

“Though Beijing is likely to spend more time dealing with the incoming DPP government in the future, it is expected to retain the KMT-CCP forum as a channel of communication and cooperation between the two parties,” Wang said.

The consensus refers to a tacit understanding reached by the KMT and Beijing in 1992, calling for the two sides to shelve political differences in order to carry on to talks as long as they support the one-China principle, though each side can have its own interpretation of what that China stands for.