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.