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Time for the opposition to name Taipei mayor hopeful

Publication Date : 21-04-2014

 

When a game is over and the score is official, the referee will typically blow a whistle and announce the winner. Last night, Sean Lien, the son of former Vice President Lien Chan, won the ruling Kuomintang's (KMT) primary to emerge as the party's candidate for the mayoral election in Taipei in November. So, let's blow the whistle.

The 44-year-old businessman beat 59-year-old veteran lawmaker Ting Shou-chung and city councilor Chung Hsiao-ping in the primary to become the KMT's candidate, garnering 10,647 of the 15,758 votes cast. The selection of the party hopeful in the primary combined the voting results (30 per cent) and an opinion poll (70 per cent) that was conducted earlier this week and released right after the ballot results. According to information published by the KMT, Sean Lien also enjoyed a comfortable lead in the opinion poll with 48.19 per cent, followed by Ting with 35.02 per cent, Tsai 10.34 per cent and Chung 6.45 per cent.

Still, the KMT's rising political star will have to struggle to convince potential electors including a large part of his own political base — to succeed the KMT's Hau Lung-bin, who is approaching the end of his second four-year term and is ineligible to stand for re-election under Taiwan's term limits. One of his major challenges is that the well-educated Sean Lien, who presents a friendly image to the people while benefiting from abundant financial support and strong personal connections from his family, is still considered to be inexperienced by a majority of Taipei residents.

The good news is that he doesn't need to worry for the time being because the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has yet to select a candidate for the election or hold any primary to decide its nominee. How come?

The opposition DPP is expected to decide whether to support independent candidate Ko Wen-je or nominate a candidate from the party for the election around mid-June — four months prior to the election. Ko, a surgeon at National Taiwan University who enjoys wide support in the pan-green camp, is opposed to four DPP hopefuls competing for the nomination: former Vice President Annette , lawyer Wellington Ku and DPP Legislators Hsu Tain-tsair and Pasuya Yao. The problem is that time may be running out for the opposition party to find a suitable candidate who could bridge the green-blue divide of Taiwan politics.

If the opposition party doesn't hurry up, the party hopeful might run out of time to present his policy platform to Taipei voters. The capital city is seen as the biggest supporting city for KMT politicians who can count on supporters to cast their votes according to the party's wishes — at least most of the time. Over the past 20 years, Taipei City has elected a KMT mayor in every poll except in 1994, when the DPP's candidate Chen Shui-bian won in a three-way race.

The party is trying to avoid a potentially disastrous outcome when the top candidates, Wellington Ku and Ko Wen-je, both join the race under the pan-green flag. That would divide up the DPP voters and eliminate the party's chance to win the election. The party has to resolve the situation and pick a singular pan-green candidate fast.

If the DPP wants a replacement candidate, perhaps the opposition party can consider incumbent Chairman Su Tseng-chang who will be able to quickly present his policies and consolidate the party's power ahead of the election. Su, 66, recently chose not to stand for re-election out of concern that the party would not stick together without his sacrifice, according to Su's aides. For sure, he also said he would not run in any of the municipal elections to be held on Nov. 29, but he should perhaps reconsider.

If Su, who successfully headed New Taipei from 1997 to 2004 (when it was still known as Taipei County), were to run in Taipei City, it would give strong support to Tsai Ing-wen's bid for her likely presidential bid in early 2016. Regardless of whether Su is planning to do so, his decision to pull out of the DPP race has put the KMT on the defensive while setting up a firewall for the party, which came under some criticism during the recent student-led protest movement. Su is still a very experienced politician who would be well-advised to set his sights on the Taipei mayoral election before the referee blows the whistle again.

 

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