KMT's Hung Hsiu-chu refuses to quit Taiwan presidential race as rumours of ouster swirl

Kuomintang presidential candidate Hung Hsiu-chu displaying a campaign poster during a press conference in Taipei on Oct 6, 2015.
Kuomintang presidential candidate Hung Hsiu-chu displaying a campaign poster during a press conference in Taipei on Oct 6, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

TAIPEI (AFP) - The controversial presidential candidate for Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang (KMT) refused to quit on Tuesday (Oct 6) as rumours swirled she would be ousted by the deeply divided party.

Known as "xiao la jiao" or "little hot pepper" for her straight-talking style, Ms Hung Hsiu-chu is trailing behind opposition candidate Tsai Ing-wen in the polls.

Her conservative views and pro-China stance have alienated both the public and her political peers.

But she vowed to continue in the face of mounting criticism although reports persist she will be forced out.

"I will stick with my original intentions and follow through my promise," Ms Hung said at a press conference in Taipei.

"There's no room any more for personal doubts or wavering by the party," she added.

"Otherwise what we will lose is not just next year's elections, but also the last vestiges of expectation, respect and trust people have in the party."

The KMT suffered its worst-ever defeat in local elections last year, with its Beijing-friendly policy a key factor in the rout.

With the party widely predicted for defeat in January's presidential vote, KMT big hitters sat on the sidelines, leaving unlikely Hung the only candidate.

Her nomination flew in the face of voter sentiment as fears grow in Taiwan over increased Beijing influence.

After an initial surge of support, Ms Hung has seen her popularity nosedive on concern over her China views.

One party member has proposed a last-minute congress to oust Hung, who was officially endorsed as candidate in July.

KMT chairman Eric Chu also confirmed Tuesday that he had discussed dissent within the party about her candidacy and low polling figures.

"I have to consider the survival of the party," Mr Chu told reporters.

"I'm bound by duty to bear all responsibilities when necessary as party chairman."

Mr Chu declined to comment whether he was considering taking over the candidacy.

Taiwan split from China in 1949 after a civil war and is self-ruling, but Beijing still sees the island as part of its territory awaiting reunification - by force if necessary.

The KMT espouses a "one China, different interpretation" model, tacitly agreed with Beijing and known as the "1992 consensus", which avoids a declaration of independence but asserts the island's sovereignty.

Hung, however, has historically taken a pro-unification stance.

After a public and political backlash she tried for a more moderate message but failed to galvanise support.

The presidential race had largely focused on Ms Hung and Ms Tsai of the Beijing-sceptic Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

Either candidate's victory would be the first time a woman is elected to lead Taiwan.