Tag Archives: Eric Chu

Taiwan – More on Presidential Election 2016: The KMT Saga

Three months before a presidential election is usually crunch time when candidates are stumping through the nation to mobilize support, shaking hands and kissing babies of core constituencies at rallies and fund-raisers, and generally aiming to throw their best political punches at opponents to gain traction for the impending polls. It is, therefore, curious, that at this juncture, the Kuomintang (KMT) has chosen to switch presidential candidates: following an extempore party congress on October 17, 2015, the KMT has firmly, albeit apologetically, replaced the party’s nominee, deputy legislative speaker Hung Hsiu-chu, with KMT chair Eric Chu. The political saga behind the KMT nomination switch clearly deserves some attention.

The KMT presidential nomination had been notable for the lack of political heavyweights contesting the party’s nomination. Indeed, despite endless speculation and rumoured pressures within the KMT, two high-profile candidates – legislative speaker Wang Jin-pyng and New Taipei City mayor and party chair Eric Chu – stayed clear of the nomination race. As a result, by the party primary registration deadline in May, only two hopefuls had thrown their names into race; of the two, only Hung mustered enough votes to cross the 15,000 minimum votes threshold to proceed to the next party nomination phase, the opinion survey. Hung subsequently also passed the 30 percent threshold of that phase to garner the party’s official nomination on July 19 at the KMT national party congress.

Despite these achievements, Hung battled uphill to maintain support, much less establish momentum, within the KMT. Some of the resistance to Hung’s candidacy was undoubtedly due to successive polls that showed DPP presidential nominee, Tsai Ing-wen, widening an already-strong lead over Hung and other possible candidates in a presidential match-up. Hung’s support in the KMT was thinned further by the entry of the chair of People First Party, James Soong, into the presidential race. A former KMT member who split from the party in 2000 to contest presidential elections then, Soong continues to draw support from KMT supporters and even within the KMT itself.

Consequently, Hung’s presidential electioneering is marked frequently by the absence of local and national party stalwarts, followed by vehement denials from the KMT that the party is considering replacing the nominee and equally vigorous dismissals from Hung’s office that she is contemplating quitting the race. Nevertheless, the rumours persisted, and Hung’s brief suspension of her election campaign in early September probably did not help to tamp down the rumours.

Still, the candidate returned to the campaign fore, only – it seems – in time to confront yet more bad news: a group of KMT members was rumoured to be considering splitting from the party to force leaders to replace Hung’s candidacy. This was followed by party chair Eric Chu’s public acknowledgment of divisions within the party; days later, KMT Central Standing Committee member Chiang Shuo-ping announced that he would seek the extempore party congress to officially assess replacing Hung.

Following the announcement of the October 17 party congress meeting, KMT officials confirmed that Hung was previously urged to quit the race in favour of other possible candidates. This may be aimed at demonstrating ongoing discussion – rather than abrupt change – within the party about the race. Notwithstanding, the new candidate has a significant feat to perform: it is, clearly, not a question of whether Chu will do better as a candidate but, rather, whether he will keep the KMT in the presidency and as majority party in the legislature. As far as the polls are concerned, DPP’s presidential nominee Tsai Ing-wen remains the person to beat in that race, and the numbers suggest that it will not be an easy contest. In the legislative race, the KMT’s routing in the 9-in-1 elections in November 2014 was followed by more balanced by-election results in February 2015. Still, there is little doubt that the legislative race will also be tough. Clearly, the new KMT presidential candidate has his work cut out for him.

Taiwan – Presidential Election 2016: Nominating the Candidates

Presidential and legislative elections are scheduled for Taiwan in January 2016. With just six months of electioneering ahead, the races – particularly the presidential race – appear muted, due in no small part to the lack of competition for the party nomination. This lack of intraparty competition seems surprising, given that the two-term incumbent, President Ma Jing-yeou, is hugely unpopular. For the opposition, a nomination – particularly in light of the landslide elections against the governing party in the nine-in-one local elections in November, 2014 – provides unprecedented tailwinds to a presidential campaign. For the ruling party, the unpopularity of the incumbent president provides an opportunity to steer an independent direction that departs from well-worn tracks. Given such promising beginnings, the dearth of candidates is curious. At the same time, it also calls attention to the candidates who are currently in or expected to run in the presidential race.

The opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) officially nominated party-chair, Tsai Ing-wen, as presidential nominee on April 15, 2015. Tsai was the only candidate to throw her hat in the ring for the party nomination; as a result, the party skipped party primaries altogether. Tsai contested the presidential elections in 2012 but lost to the Kuomintang (KMT) candidate, Ma Jing-yeou. This time round, her odds look considerably better: as an indication, strong contenders for the DPP party-chair race in 2014 – Su Tseng-chang and former premier Frank Hsieh – dropped out of that race to essential cede the position to Tsai. Su was expected to contest the DPP presidential nomination, as was Tainan mayor, William Lai Ching-te; however, neither came to pass. Indeed, the popular Tainan mayor advocated for the party to unite behind Tsai’s candidacy on a facebook post.

On the KMT front, two hopefuls threw in their names by the party primary registration deadline: Deputy Legislative Speaker Hung Hsiu-chu, and former Health Minister Tang Chih-liang. Only one, Deputy Speaker Hung, passed the party threshold of 15,000 votes to proceed to the next phase of the party nomination, the opinion polls, where she will need to receive at least 30 percent support in order to be nominated as party candidate. If Hung fails to pass that threshold, then the party may draft a candidate for the party nomination directly. Two possible contenders, if that should come to pass, are: Legislative speaker Wang Jin-pyng and New Taipei City Mayor and party chair Eric Chu. While Chu had steadfastly rejected the possibility of running for the presidency, Wang has been coy: on May 15, a day before the party primary deadline, he “thanked and apologized” to supporters without explicitly rejecting the possibility of a presidential run.

Besides candidates from the two main parties, an independent candidate – former DPP Chair Shih Ming-teh – has announced his candidacy. The former opposition leader, a political prisoner for 25 years, is rumoured to have talked to former presidential candidate for the 2012 elections, James Soong, about a possible joint-ticket. The independent has already vowed to form a coalition cabinet if successful. Shih will need 270,000 signatures as endorsement to be eligible as presidential candidate.

Taiwan – By-elections 2015: Results and Lessons

The February 2015 by-elections saw contestation of five legislative seats vacated following success in the 9-in-1 local elections in November 2014. The electoral routing of the Kuomintang (KMT) party in November raised the possibility of a similar Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) dominance in the by-elections. That did not come to be: the elections saw both parties retain seats previously held by their respective parties, with three going to the DPP and two to KMT. The legislative composition is unchanged: the 113-seat legislature has 64 seats for the KMT and 40 for the DPP. The newly-elected legislators will serve short-terms until the next national legislative elections in January 2016. Turnout was low, averaging mid-30 percent, with the lowest in Taichung (30.76 percent) and the highest in Nantou (37.07 percent). The low turnout was probably not unexpected given by-elections, although it was likely affected further by TransAsia air crash tragedy, and low-key or cancelled campaigns in the final week of the race due to the tragedy.

What lessons do the by-elections hold? The status-quo outcome, following the disproportionate loss for the KMT in the local elections, suggests lessons for both parties: first, President Ma’s unpopularity does not translate into electoral liability if his influence in the KMT is dialled-back; second, the DPP’s electoral viability rests on progress beyond an anti-President Ma platform.

Going into the by-elections, the KMT took significant steps to address President Ma’s unpopularity to diminish the electoral liability. Following President Ma’s resignation as party-leader, the KMT elected Eric Chu, New Taipei City mayor, as new party leader. Thus far, Chu has signalled a move towards greater transparency in a bid to woo support for the party; for instance, he launched a probe into the KMT assets, which party-elders had resisted. Along the same lines, the KMT party-leader has also indicated that the party may rescind its case to oust legislative speaker Wang Jin-pyng, a flashpoint of public disapproval for the KMT. The KMT government has also granted medical parole for former President Chen Shui-bian, also widely seen as a reconciliatory effort across party lines that also redeems the KMT’s public standing. These efforts have stemmed additional political backlash, as the by-election results indicate. If the KMT and its political leaders make further inroads on transparency and responsiveness to the public, the party is likely to gain electoral viability for the 2016 elections.

The DPP was optimistic going into the by-elections, and party-chair and possible 2016-presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen actively campaigned for the five DPP legislative contenders. However, the party suffered from its decision to withdraw its DPP candidate, Wu Yi-chen, to back former Sunflower movement student leader Chen Wei-ting as an independent in the Miaoli county district. When Chen dropped out of the race because of previous sexual harassment incidents, the party scrambled for a replacement, ultimately returning to Wu as the party candidate. Wu garnered a respectable 32,966 votes against KMT’s Hsu Chih-jung (47,105) in a KMT-traditional stronghold. Still, the episode – in the context of the overall by-election outcomes – underlines the DPP’s electoral viability for 2016 rests beyond anti-President Ma sentiments.