Jan 22, 2015

Taiwan: After Electoral Losses, Kuomintang Chooses New Leader

The last rounds of local elections showed a momentum for the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), while Kuomintang (KMT)’s policies were criticised for pushing too much for closer economic ties with China. KMT replaced its leader, President Ma Ying-jeou, with New Taipei City Mayor, Eric Chu, who in addition to pushing for better relations with Beijing, highlights other goals, such as a reduction of the gap between rich and poor.

Photo courtesy of Daniel Aguilera Sánchez@flickr

Below is an article by the Economist:

Since it was drubbed in municipal elections in November [2014], Taiwan’s ruling Nationalist party, the Kuomintang (KMT), has been adrift ahead of presidential elections set for early next year, while the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has built momentum after their local-election success. Now the KMT is hoping that Eric Chu (pictured), who assumed the party leadership on January 19th, will revive its flagging popularity.

Mr Chu, who ran uncontested, replaces Taiwan’s president, Ma Ying-jeou, who resigned from the post of KMT chairman to atone for the electoral losses. The party’s thrashing reflected growing dissatisfaction with the KMT’s pushing closer economic ties with China. Under Mr Ma, in office for almost seven years, Taiwan has signed 21 agreements with China, which claims the democratic island as its own; some Taiwanese worry that closer economic ties give China more political influence over Taiwan too.

Mr Chu is the powerful mayor of New Taipei City, the most populous city in Taiwan. He is not opposed to closer relations with China, but has tended to downplay them. He has instead stressed the importance of resolving domestic economic problems, such as a growing gap between rich and poor. He also calls for the benefits from Taiwan’s business deals with China to be more evenly distributed.

At his swearing-in ceremony, Mr Chu called on China to work with the KMT to resolve such concerns. Though he said he would stick by the party’s basic aim to improve cross-strait relations, he will also need to distance himself from Mr Ma’s chumminess if his party is to win back voters. China’s president, Xi Jinping, sent Mr Chu a congratulatory message. In it was the usual hectoring: urging the KMT to oppose Taiwanese independence, increase dialogue and stand by the “1992 consensus”, in which both China and Taiwan agreed to the idea of “one China” (while disagreeing on what that meant). George Tsai of the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy says China is concerned about the KMT dampening relations.

One of the party’s main challenges will be attracting young voters, particularly following the occupation of Taiwan’s parliament by student activists last March in protest at a trade deal with China. Taiwanese youth face poor job prospects, for which they blame the KMT. Mr Chu, who at 53 is young for a KMT politician, claims young voters as the party’s most precious asset.

Mr Chu is also the KMT’s best hope for a presidential candidate, and was the only Nationalist politician to win one of Taiwan’s six big municipalities in the November elections. He is coy about running for the party’s presidential nomination, saying he has plenty to concentrate on as it is. For starters, if the rising political star cannot improve his party’s image, then 2016 is likely to herald a president from the opposition.