Taiwan President says she will stand for re-election next year

TAIPEI • Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said she plans to run for re-election next year despite her flagging popularity and growing hostility from Beijing.

Ms Tsai, who was speaking to CNN correspondent Matt Rivers yesterday on board the presidential plane, said: "It's natural that any sitting president wants to do more for the country, and wants to finish things on his or her agenda."

She added that she wanted to "complete" her vision for Taiwan.

Ms Tsai is the first woman to be elected as Taiwan's president, sweeping to power in 2016 amid promises to overhaul the economy and reduce Taiwan's reliance on mainland China.

But last November, her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) suffered bruising losses in local elections, prompting her to resign as chairman of the party. Since then, she has faced calls from senior members of her party to not seek re-election.

But Ms Tsai told CNN she is "confident" that she can win.

"This is something I have prepared for," she said. "It's again another challenge. Being president, you're not short of challenges."

 
 
 
 

She blamed her party's bruising defeat on what she called a difficult reform agenda, which she has pushed since taking office.

She said: "In good times, you have challenges of one sort, and in bad times, you have challenges of another sort."

Ms Tsai is expected to face a difficult re-election bid. Party chairman Cho Jung-tai last month said the party's flag-bearer will be decided by popular ballot and the outcome will be known by mid-April.

Besides Ms Tsai, former premier Lai Ching-te is also a favourite to win the party's nomination.

If she wins the DPP primary, Ms Tsai would come up against the candidate from the Kuomintang (KMT), the main opposition party, which favours closer relations with mainland China.

Opinion polls indicate that Ms Tsai is down as much as 30 per cent against potential KMT presidential nominee Eric Chu, whom she defeated in 2016.

She may also need to fob off possible challenges from independents such as Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je.

China and Taiwan have been ruled separately since the KMT government fled to Taiwan after the civil war defeat in the 1940s.

Beijing has said it will not hesitate to use force if Taipei formally declares independence.

Ties between the two sides have been tense since the independence-leaning Ms Tsai took power.

In January, Chinese President Xi Jinping gave a landmark speech in which he said the island's unification with the mainland was "inevitable".

Ms Tsai hit back, saying her people would never relinquish their democratic freedoms - an unusually robust response that saw her receive a bump in the polls.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2019, with the headline 'Taiwan President says she will stand for re-election next year'. Print Edition | Subscribe