Former Taiwan V-P wins race to lead KMT

Mr Wu Den-yih (centre), whose political career spans more than 40 years, arriving at a polling station in Taipei yesterday to vote for a new KMT chairman. After beating five other candidates in the hotly-contested elections, he pledged to revitalise
Mr Wu Den-yih (centre), whose political career spans more than 40 years, arriving at a polling station in Taipei yesterday to vote for a new KMT chairman. After beating five other candidates in the hotly-contested elections, he pledged to revitalise the party in order to "restore the trust, respect and dignity of the party".PHOTO: REUTERS

Wu Den-yih will face challenge of uniting a party plagued by infighting and financial woes

Taiwan's former vice-president Wu Den-yih will lead its embattled Kuomintang after defeating five other challengers in the party's leadership race yesterday.

Mr Wu received more than 144,000 of an estimated 276,423 votes cast, garnering 52.2 per cent of the total votes in the most hotly contested leadership elections in the party's history. The figure was above the 50 per cent needed to avoid a run-off contest.

Mr Wu's closest rival, KMT's incumbent chair Hung Hsiu-chu, received 19.2 per cent.

The other four candidates were 69-year-old Mr Hung's two former deputies Hau Lung-pin, 65, and Steve Chan, 68; former legislator Pan Wei-kang, 59; and businessman Han Kuo-yu, 59.

As he claimed victory last night, Mr Wu thanked his supporters and pledged to reform the party in order to "restore the trust, respect and dignity of the party".

The 69-year-old will face the challenge of uniting and rebuilding a party plagued by bitter infighting and financial woes after its assets were frozen in a probe into its allegedly ill-gotten assets.

"Without unity, there will be no chance to revitalise KMT," Mr Wu said last night.

Once considered one of the world's richest and most powerful political parties, the KMT lost to the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in both the presidential and legislative elections last year.

Mr Wu said the party must start preparations early in order to win back the seat of government in the 2020 legislative and presidential elections.

Mr Wu, whose political career spans more than 40 years, was the former county chief of his native central Nantou. He rose through the ranks to become Taiwan's premier and, most recently, its vice-president. He stepped down last year.

Mr Wu's victory came on the day that Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen marked her first year in office. Although many of Ms Tsai's unpopular reforms have drawn strong public criticism and her approval ratings have tumbled from 56 per cent to as low as 18 per cent, the KMT is also struggling.

The pro-Beijing party is seen as being out of touch with the Taiwanese public, who are wary of closer ties with China.

The latest survey released by the Cabinet-level Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) last week found that more than 70 per cent of Taiwanese prefer the status quo in cross-strait relations.

Analysts said another crucial test for the new KMT chief is whether he can rally the party together to pick up seats in next year's mayoral and councillor elections, or even dislodge Ms Tsai from power in the 2020 presidential elections.

Political scientist Liao Da-chi at National Sun Yat-sen University said Mr Wu will have his work cut out.

"Now that he has the mandate of the party, it may be easier for him to convince people to put their differences aside and prepare for next year's elections," he said.

The DPP also congratulated Mr Wu last night, saying in a statement that it hoped to work with him and his party to "establish common ground" to push major national reforms.

The new chairman will be sworn in at a party congress on Aug 20.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 21, 2017, with the headline 'Former Taiwan V-P wins race to lead KMT'. Print Edition | Subscribe