Taiwan’s opposition to unite on presidential ticket challenging frontrunner
TAIPEI — Taiwan’s two main opposition parties, which have vowed to renew talks with China, agreed on Wednesday to make a decision on a joint presidential ticket for January’s elections, as the front-running ruling party decried interference from Beijing.
The issue of China, which views Taiwan as its territory, looms over the Jan. 13 parliamentary and presidential elections. China has stepped up military and political pressure to press the island to accept its sovereignty claim, which Taiwan rejects, including high-profile war games.
Vice President Lai Ching-te, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) presidential candidate, has almost consistently led opinion polls, leaving candidates of the main opposition Kuomintang (KMT), Hou Yu-ih, and the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), Ko Wen-je, to battle it out for second place.
The KMT and TPP have been in acrimonious talks since last month on a united presidential bid, but had failed to agree how to decide who should be the presidential candidate and who should be the running mate.
After talks hosted by former president Ma Ying-jeou, also a senior KMT member, the two parties said they had agreed to use opinion polls conducted between Nov. 7 and this Friday to decide the make-up of the presidential bid with the result to be announced on Saturday.
“No matter what, whoever is the lead and whoever is the deputy, everyone will work together,” Hou told reporters, referring to who gets the presidential candidate spot and who the gets the vice presidential one.
“The cooperation isn’t only just between the KMT and the TPP. It will unite Taiwan,” Hou told business leaders after the talks.
China cut off routine talks with Taiwan after President Tsai Ing-wen of the DPP took office in 2016. The two opposition parties have vowed to pursue dialogue with China, on an equal and dignified basis, and “restore peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait”.
Chen Yi-fan, an assistant professor of diplomacy and international relations at Taiwan’s Tamkang University, said if Hou and Kou did not work together then Lai would certainly win.
“The U.S. and China both want stabilized Taiwan Strait relations. Lai may not be the ideal person for this,” Chen said.
As the talks got underway, the DPP accused Ma, who last week came out in support of using opinion polls, which the KMT had previously opposed, of taking his instructions from China, given the head of Ma’s foundation, Hsiao Hsu-tsen, had visited Beijing this month.
“It is not baseless to say, as Vice President Lai has repeatedly done so, that it is China’s communist party which most wants to take down the DPP,” the party said in a statement.
Hsiao rebuffed that, telling reporters he had been in Beijing purely for an academic forum.
China detests Lai, believing he is a separatist. Lai says only Taiwan’s people can decide their future and has repeatedly offers talks with Beijing, which has rejected the offers.
The DPP champions Taiwan’s separate identity from China.
Some opinion polls have shown that if Hou and Ko teamed up, in whatever combination, they would beat Lai and his presumptive running mate, Hsiao Bi-khim, Taiwan’s envoy to the United States. The DPP has not confirmed Hsiao will join the campaign.
The KMT has far larger representation than the TPP, controlling 38 of 113 seats in parliament to the TPP’s five.
A fourth candidate is also running for president – Terry Gou, the billionaire founder of major Apple supplier Foxconn.
Gou, who has called for the opposition to unite to take on the DPP, has lagged in the polls and the KMT and TPP made no mention of him in announcing their decision to work together.
Candidates have until Friday of next week to register with the election commission.