Taiwan by-election first of many challenges for new DPP chairman

  • Cho Jung-tai vows to hit the ground running and never forget ‘the day that almost led to the fall of the party’
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 January, 2019, 8:16pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 January, 2019, 10:48pm

The newly elected chairman of Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party, Cho Jung-tai, vowed to hit the ground running after he was officially sworn in on Wednesday, admitting there was no time to lose.

His most urgent task is to lead the ruling party’s campaign for two legislative by-elections on January 27, the first test for the DPP since its crushing defeat in November’s local government polls.

Cho replaces Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, who resigned from the party leadership immediately after the November election, when the mainland-friendly opposition Kuomintang (KMT) won 15 of the self-ruled island’s 22 cities and counties, including Kaohsiung, the pro-independence stronghold in the south.

“We must never forget November 24 because it was the day that almost led to the fall of the party,” Cho said after the swearing-in ceremony.

“We will need to immediately deal with the legislative by-election to be held later this month.”

Cho, 59, former secretary general to the cabinet, was Tsai’s favoured candidate in the two-way race for the party chairmanship. He defeated Michael You Ying-lung, head of the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation, who was backed by the hard core pro-independence faction.

He faces a series of challenges if he is to live up to his promise to steer the party back on track – including helping Tsai secure the DPP ticket to run for a second term and win next year’s presidential election – and none of them would be easy, analysts said.

In addition to the by-elections – prompted by the departure of six legislators who resigned to run in November’s local government elections – Cho must find ways to boost the party and regain the support and trust of voters, disappointed by Tsai’s performance.

Her drastic labour and pension reforms, along with a failure to raise living standards, are seen as part of the reasons for the DPP’s resounding defeat in the November polls.

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

Cho, a moderate, is seen as a protégé of Tsai’s and a consensus candidate with the backing of major party figures and especially those of the younger generation.

“It remains to be seen whether he can pacify the various factional leaders and resolve their differences to realign the seriously wounded party following the November elections,” said Liao Da-chi, a political-science professor at National Sun Yat-sen University in Kaohsiung.

“This is highly important for the DPP in the upcoming legislative by-elections and next year’s presidential elections,” she stressed.

“His most important mission is to help the party win the 2020 presidential elections,” said Fan Shih-ping, a professor of political science at National Normal University.

Fan said, even though Cho was favoured by Tsai for the role of DPP chairman, it remained to be seen whether she would be able to win the party ticket for a second term, given the strong opposition of the hard core pro-independence camp, and the ambitions of other faction leaders.

Tsai was recently challenged by four veteran pro-independence party heavyweights, who demanded she give up her intention to run for a second term.

Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-wen urged to stand aside by hardline pro-independence faction

Although their call did not receive approval from most members, Fan said Cho would need to wrestle with the veterans and other factional leaders in the next 17 months to secure the party ticket for Tsai.

The new party chairman must also deal with the pressure from Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has called for unification talks with Taiwan.

“Tsai’s rejection of Xi’s ‘1992 consensus’ and proposal for unification talks, however, helps alleviate such a pressure on Cho – in terms of devising the 2020 campaign strategy – as Tsai’s refusal means she has already set the tone for next year’s elections,” Liao said.

Tsai’s popularity has risen somewhat, with more than 85 per cent of the public in Taiwan backing her rejection of Xi’s calls for cross-strait unification talks under the “one country, two systems” model with the “1992 consensus” as the foundation for talks.