Taiwan’s Eric Chu wins KMT leadership race as party sticks with island-centric position
- The 60-year-old ex-vice-premier trounced his challenger and mainland-centric ideologist Chang Ya-chung by more than 85,000 votes to win the party’s top post
- Chu has vowed to return the century-old party to power in the 2024 presidential election
Ex-vice-premier Chu, 60, beat his top rival and mainland-centric ideologist Chang Ya-chung by bagging more than 85,160, or 45.8 per cent of the votes, to win the KMT’s leadership in a four-way race, the party said.
Chu succeeded in canvassing support from neutral and Taiwan-centric voters in the last stretch of the campaign to turn the tide after opinion polls showed he trailed Chang by a slim margin.
Chang, a scholar-turned-politician, took more than 60,600 or 32.6 per cent of the total number of votes.
Incumbent chairman Johnny Chiang, 49, failed to get re-elected with some 35,000 votes while former Changhua magistrate Cho Po-yuan, 56, finished fourth with just 5,133 votes.
More than 50.7 per cent of 370,000 eligible members went to vote – a turnout much higher than the 35.85 per cent recorded in the 2020 by-election – indicating representatives opted for a moderate leader rather than a radical one.
“Thanks to those who came out to vote in the election,” Chu said after his win.
“After tonight, it will be time for the Democratic Progressive Party to worry as a united KMT will do all it can to pursue victory in the future.”
Chiang, who had tried to overhaul the party by reaching out to young members, conceded defeat before the results were officially announced.
“Though I failed to get re-elected, the [chairman] election is the overall success of the party,” Chiang said.
He offered his congratulations to Chu and asked him to lead the party back to power.
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Chiang called on all members to unite to take on future challenges, including a year-end referendum to decide if the self-ruled island should stop importing US pork containing ractopamine – a meat leanness additive, and the presidential election in 2024.
Chang, meanwhile, said his loss showed that his ideology, including the push for cross-strait unification, was not accepted by most of the members. He urged emotional supporters to remain in the party as some frustrated members contemplated leaving the KMT.
Observers said Chu’s victory showed that members were aware of the potential risk that a mainland-centric KMT would lead the party to nowhere as it runs counter to public opinion on the island.
Several opinion surveys in Taiwan have found that most the island’s residents have increasingly identified themselves as Taiwanese rather than Chinese.
Billed as a vote between the Chinese Nationalist Party and the “Taiwan Nationalist Party”, the results of Saturday’s election have been viewed as a political barometer for the island and whether the KMT would return to its old mainland-centric ideology or adhere to a relatively more Taiwan-centric position.
Chu, who led the KMT from 2015-2016, has vowed to help the party win the local government elections next year and the presidential polls in 2024.
“The KMT needed an effective leader with cabinet and local government experience to lead the party back to power,” he said when announcing his candidacy for the chairmanship last month.
Regarded as an efficient legislator and a capable administrator in his stints as Taoyuan county magistrate, Chu, was elected unopposed as KMT chairman in 2015.
He ran in the 2016 presidential elections as a last-minute replacement for KMT candidate Hung Hsiu-chu after the party lost faith in Hung’s ability to win the race.
Chu lost the election and stood down as chairman but continued as New Taipei mayor until 2018.
Considered a “mid-blue” figure, Chu, who has the trust of the party elites and institutions, is relatively restrained on issues relating to cross-strait unification and has opted for maintaining the status quo and peaceful development of relations between Taiwan and mainland China.