‘A win for moderates’ in election of Taiwan’s new Democratic Progressive Party chief

  • Radical opponent loses out in contest to lead island’s ruling party
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 January, 2019, 10:30pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 January, 2019, 11:29pm

Taiwan’s ruling pro-independence party elected a new chairman on Sunday in a move that analysts saw as a win for the organisation’s moderate wing.

Observers said the election of former cabinet secretary-general Cho Jung-tai over a radical opponent in the race to lead the Democratic Progressive Party would help stabilise the policies of President Tsai Ing-wen’s administration, as ties between Beijing and Taipei are at a low.

The election came just days after Chinese President Xi Jinping made a key policy speech on Taiwan, calling on both sides of the Taiwan Strait to start talks on unification and adoption of “one country, two systems” in Taiwan to settle the 70-year-old cross-strait divide.

Beijing and Washington look on as Taiwan’s DPP picks new chairman

The vote was prompted by Tsai’s resignation as party chairwoman in November following a landslide defeat for the DPP in local government elections. Tsai, who has angered Beijing by refusing to acknowledge the “one China” policy, remains the self-governed island’s president.

Cho, seen as having a conciliatory attitude towards Tsai, won 72.6 per cent of the ballots, Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported late on Sunday. He beat polling specialist You Ying-lung, who has been critical of the president.

You supported a recent call by four party heavyweights for Tsai not to seek re-election in 2020 – although he also said that it was something that the public should ultimately decide.

After his win, Cho said the party would carry out the 2020 presidential nomination race in accordance with the DPP’s mechanism, and all party members were equally eligible, the Liberty Times reported.

Just 16.9 per cent of the party’s 200,000 members voted on Sunday, the lowest turnout in the DPP’s history, local news outlets reported, citing acting party chairman Lin Yu-chang. Cho will assume leadership of the DPP on January 9.

Alexander Huang, an international relations professor at Tamkang University, said Cho’s win did not reflect directly on Tsai, but suggested that DPP members preferred stability over a big change, given You’s clear support for Taiwanese independence. “This is not a referendum on [Tsai’s] leadership,” he said.

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Huang said Cho’s leadership would not have a major impact on cross-strait relations.

“The cross-strait issue and policy towards mainland China is in the hands of the president. I think this newly elected chairman will work closely with the president,” he said.

Huang added that the low turnout reflected a lack of interest among DPP members after last year’s election defeat. “They do not see this election as important to the level that they needed to come out and vote,” he said.

Analysts had said the vote for the new party head will set the tone for the run-up to next year’s presidential election.

“It’s important because the international community, and [mainland] China, will be watching,” J. Michael Cole, a Taipei-based expert with the University of Nottingham’s China Policy Institute, said.

“Any major departure from long-standing policy under President Tsai could alarm international partners and give Beijing ammunition to further crack down on Taiwan.”

Yen Chien-Fa, a political analyst at Chien Hsin University, said that whoever came out on top would have significant influence in the 2020 campaign and whether Tsai was the candidate.

“A chairman who is at odds with Tsai will definitely be a minus [for the party],” he said.

But speculation about a further shake-up in Tsai’s administration has been revived with Premier William Lai saying that “when the time comes, I will leave”, according to the United Daily News. The report said Lai’s cabinet might resign en masse as early as Thursday.

Asked about the comments on Sunday, Lai said he would tell the public at an appropriate time, CNA reported.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse