Asia Pacific / Politics

China-friendly Taipei mayor to form political party in challenge to Tsai Ing-wen

Reuters, Bloomberg,

AFP-JIJI

The mayor of Taipei said on Thursday he will form a political party to run in Taiwan’s 2020 elections, a move that could complicate President Tsai Ing-wen’s re-election bid and shake up the political landscape amid heightened tension with China.

Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je said he will set up the Taiwanese People’s Party in early August in a bid to run in the presidential and legislative elections in January.

“We’d like to provide options for people other than pan blue or pan green,” Ko said, referring to the colors of the opposition Kuomintang and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party. “The main thinking is to pursue the well-being of the people.”

The mayor’s office in Taipei, which has a population of 2.7 million, has previously been a springboard to the presidency.

Ko’s entry into the presidential race would make January’s election the most hotly contested since the Democratic Progressive Party’s Chen Shui-bian emerged victorious from a three-way battle for the presidency in 2000.

The outcome of the election will determine if Taiwan continues Tsai’s policy of aligning with the U.S., Japan and other liberal democracies or moving closer to Beijing under a China-friendly KMT administration.

Tsai already faces a tough battle to overcome the firebrand mayor of the southern city of Kaohsiung, Han Kuo-yu, running on behalf of the KMT.

Beijing-friendly Han, 62, said in a speech on Sunday that the election would be a choice between “peace or crisis” with China.

Tsai, also 62, has described the presidential election as a “fight for freedom and democracy,” setting herself up as someone who can defend Taiwan from an increasingly assertive Beijing.

She is facing criticism over her party’s reform agenda amid rising diplomatic and military pressure from Beijing.

China’s military is holding exercises this week in waters near Taiwan, days after Beijing reiterated it was ready to fight if there was any move toward independence for Taiwan.

A Ko candidacy is seen as more damaging to Tsai than Han. The president trails Han, 35 percent to 38 percent, according to a public opinion poll in the Apple Daily newspaper on Wednesday. If Ko entered the race, he would likely sap more of Tsai’s support than Han’s. The poll shows Ko garnering 23 percent of the vote, compared with Tsai’s 27 percent and Han’s 33 percent.

China considers Taiwan a wayward province and has never ruled out the use of force to bring it under Beijing’s control.

Ko, who advocates closer cross-strait ties and is known for his colorful comments about Taiwan politics, said he will decide whether to run in the highly competitive presidential race by early September.

“It’s not important whether I run (for the president) or not. What matters is the well-being of the people,” Ko told reporters in Taipei.

Another who could complicate Tsai’s bid for re-election is Foxconn founder Terry Gou.

Gou lost the presidential nomination for the Kuomintang last month but has not announced whether he will run as an independent in 2020.

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