Taiwan's Eric Chu is sole candidate for ruling party leadership

New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu (in blue) visiting an elder-care home with Mr Zhang Zhijun (second from left), director of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, in Taiwan in June 2014. Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang party, reeling from its worst-ever
New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu (in blue) visiting an elder-care home with Mr Zhang Zhijun (second from left), director of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, in Taiwan in June 2014. Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang party, reeling from its worst-ever local election setback, will field just Mr Chu, a party official said on Sunday, Dec 14, 2014. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang party, reeling from its worst-ever local election setback, will have just one candidate for its new leader, a party official said on Sunday.

As of Saturday when nominations closed only Eric Chu, incumbent mayor of New Taipei City, had completed the required candidacy procedures.

Chu also needs than 10,000 endorsements from party members by Dec 21, before the KMT elects a new chairman on Jan 17, but this is thought to pose few problems.

President Ma Ying-jeou stepped down as KMT chairman early this month to shoulder responsibility for the massive defeat in last month's local elections, seen as a key barometer before the 2016 presidential race.

Ma will retain the presidency until 2016 when he must step down after serving two terms, but observers say his influence within the party will now be severely diminished.

The KMT lost five of Taiwan's six large municipalities - the most hotly contested seats - in the local elections. New Taipei, a newly created municipality which surrounds the island's capital, was the only one it retained.

"For the future of Taiwan's democracy, I cannot just walk away in the darkest moment of the Kuomintang. I must stand for election for the party's next chairman," Chu said on his Facebook page.

But the 53-year-old promised to complete his four-year term as New Taipei mayor, saying: "I will not run for the 2016 presidential election." Analysts say the odds of the major opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) seizing power in 2016 have increased following their landslide victory in the local polls.

Chu, a rising political star in the KMT, edged out his DPP rival by only by a narrow margin, in stark contrast to various surveys before the vote that had shown him with a comfortable lead.

Tense relations with China have warmed since Ma was elected in 2008 on a platform of improving cross-strait ties and reviving the slowing economy.

But public sentiment has turned against the Beijing-friendly approach as voters say trade deals have been agreed in secret and not benefited ordinary Taiwanese people.

Taiwan and China split in 1949 at the end of a civil war. Beijing still claims the island as part of its territory awaiting reunification - by force if necessary.