Eric Chu returns as KMT chairman after party poll

Newly elected Kuomintang chairman Eric Chu speaks to party members and the press after winning the election. PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE KUOMINTANG

TAIPEI - Taiwan's main opposition party Kuomintang (KMT) on Saturday (Sept 25) re-elected former chairman, Mr Eric Chu, hoping that he would be able to revitalise the party to appeal to younger voters following a string of electoral setbacks.

Incumbent KMT chairman Johnny Chiang, 49, conceded defeat and congratulated Mr Chu, 60, even before all the ballots were counted.

"Tonight is the time for the Democratic Progressive Party to start worrying. Starting now, the KMT will be a KMT united like never before, a KMT full of fight," a triumphant Mr Chu declared at party headquarters after winning the poll. He was referring to the ruling DPP party.

Although Mr Chiang had come neck and neck with Mr Chu in pre-election opinion polls, he performed relatively poorly in the election, lagging in third place with h 35,090 votes. Mr Chu received 85,164 votes and another candidate, Dr Chang Ya-chung, 66, came in second with 60,632 votes.

Dr Chang, who supported peaceful unification with China, began to attract more support as the party poll neared from those who voted for former Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu in last year's presidential election which saw the DPP's Tsai Ing-wen re-elected to a second term.

The final candidate in the race to be KMT chairman was former Changhua magistrate Cho Po-yuan, 56, who came in a distant fourth with just 5,133 votes.

"I ran for party chair in order to continue the mission of carrying out the recall vote and the referendum, this is more important than the chairman election... I hope the newly elected Chairman Chu will keep this going, as well as the other candidates in today's race," Mr Chiang said in a press statement.

He was referring to the party's efforts to recall lawmaker Chen Po-wei, who is a member of the Taiwan Statebuilding Party, and a referendum on the government's decision to import US pork that contained the feed additive ractopamine.

Since losing the 2016 presidential election to the DPP, the KMT has suffered a number of humiliating losses in other polls on the island. It has since been the subject of ridicule for its outdated cross-strait policies that younger Taiwanese do not favour.

Mr Chiang was elected as interim party leader amid calls for reform from younger party members after former chairman Wu Den-yih stepped down following the KMT's loss in the 2020 presidential election.

"The KMT needs to regain the people's trust," said Mr Chiang to the press, and he called on Mr Chu to put Dr Chang and Mr Cho in essential positions within the party, as "much public attention has been focused on the two's talents in this election".

Mr Chiang also announced that he and his first-line staff would step down on the same day, and promised a smooth handover to Mr Chu by the end of the month.

Mr Chu is now expected to lead the party for the next four years, and face major challenges including the mayoral and magistrate elections next year and the presidential race in 2024, in which the party hopes to seize power from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party.

On cross-strait ties, Mr Chu has said he will abide by the "1992 consensus" - a tacit understanding reached between Taiwan's then KMT government and the Chinese government in 1992 that there is only one China but both sides are free to interpret what that means.

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