TAIPEI (REUTERS, AFP) - The mayor of Taiwan's southern port city Han Kuo-yu on Monday (July 15) won the opposition party's hotly contested nomination for the 2020 presidential election, posting a direct challenge to President Tsai Ing-wen who is seeking re-election.
The China-friendly Kuomintang (KMT) said Kaohsiung mayor Han beat four contenders in a national tally for its primary race, including the billionaire founder of Apple supplier Foxconn, Terry Gou.
Mr Han won 45 per cent of votes cast in the KMT’s primary – which polls members of the public by telephone – compared with Mr Gou’s 28 per cent, a major setback for a man who made his fortune assembling iPhones and other key electronic devices in huge factories on the Chinese mainland.
"The past three years under the rule of Tsai Ing-wen have been too disappointing," Mr Han told reporters at KMT’s headquarters in Taipei after the results. "DPP supporters should open their eyes and think it over."
The self-ruled island is set to hold its presidential election in January amid heightened tension with China, which considers it a wayward province and has never ruled out the use of force to return it to the fold.
Mr Han, 62, has had a meteoric rise in the last two years, journeying from relative obscurity to becoming his party’s presidential candidate in a phenomenon that has been dubbed the "Han tide".
Some have likened him to US President Donald Trump and other populist leaders who hail from outside establishment circles and command a fervent voter base buoyed by lofty promises of resurrecting their fortunes.
Mr Han gained island-wide popularity after winning the mayoral election in November in Kaohsiung, formerly a stronghold for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party.
Supporters see Mr Han as a plain-talking maverick and political outsider who has shaken up the staid politics of the KMT – but detractors are unnerved by his efforts promoting warmer China ties.
The China-friendly mayor triggered controversy after his meetings with several senior officials in China earlier this year, including Mr Wang Zhimin, director of the Liaison Office of the People’s Government in Hong Kong.
Mr Han has said both sides are part of "one China", a cherished principle for Beijing, and has previously described Taiwan independence as being "more scary" than syphilis.
Ms Tsai has described the 2020 presidential election as a "fight for freedom and democracy", setting herself up as someone who can defend Taiwan from an increasingly assertive Beijing.
Her administration suffered a defeat in local elections late last year amid mounting criticism over the party’s reform agenda and rising pressure from China.