KMT head seeking to woo youth vote

TAIPEI • Taiwanese ruling party chairman Eric Chu will not know for more than a month the results of his long-shot bid to win the island's presidency, but he is already discussing how his party can win back the youth vote after the election.

"We should do some reform," Dr Chu said in an interview at the Kuomintang's (KMT) party headquarters. "We should change our policy and try to get closer to the younger generation, to the people, and do a lot of change to make our policy more attractive."

Dr Chu, 54, trails opposition leader Tsai Ing-wen in the Jan 16 polls, with the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) on course to win both the presidency and a legislative majority for the first time.

The KMT is struggling to overcome scandals, economic stagnation and wariness about incumbent Ma Ying-jeou's push to expand trade ties with mainland China, a policy many young Taiwanese feel has favoured the business elite. 

Students opposed to a services trade pact brokered by President Ma's government with the Chinese Communist Party occupied Taiwan's legislative chamber for weeks last year in what became known as the Sunflower Movement. Mr Ma was later forced to hand the KMT leadership to Dr Chu, the mayor of New Taipei, after suffering a record defeat in local elections held nationwide.

Dr Chu said he supported the direction of Mr Ma's rapprochement with the mainland, which led to the President's historic meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Singapore last month.

 If elected, Dr Chu said he would repeat Mr Ma's summit with Mr Xi and might even meet on the Chinese leader's turf. But Dr Chu said changes were necessary to ease tensions, "especially complaints about those economic benefits not shared equally" with the younger generation.

 Some 52 per cent of voters aged 20 to 29 support Dr Tsai's DPP, compared with 19 per cent for the KMT, according to a TVBS poll released last month.

"We have to take this response from the younger generation," Dr Chu said in last Friday's interview, adding "the DPP always successfully puts the attack on the KMT, saying it's too close to the mainland".

Dr Chu, who holds a PhD in accounting from New York University, said he opposed a proposal by Mr Ma's government to lift a ban on mainland investments in Taiwan's strategic US$19 billion (S$27 billion) integrated-circuit-design industry, saying it is "not yet the time" to open to greater influence from Beijing. When asked about his overall policy towards China, he said he would keep "the status quo and let the next generation decide the direction".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 15, 2015, with the headline 'KMT head seeking to woo youth vote'. Print Edition | Subscribe