Taiwan Opposition Selects Presidential Candidate

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of Taiwan have announced the selection of Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen as their opposition candidate to current President Ma Ying-jeou in the upcoming elections in January 2012. From Wall Street Journal:

Ms. Tsai, chairwoman of the Democratic Progressive Party, will run against President Ma Ying-jeou of the ruling Kuomintang in the elections that will serve as a referendum on historic steps taken by Mr. Ma in his first term to warm long-frosty political and economic relations with China.

Recent polls show that an election between Ms. Tsai and Mr. Ma would be a dead heat.

Ms. Tsai beat out former Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang by a single percentage point in an island-wide phone poll that served as the party’s primary.

A former professor who holds a doctorate in law from the London School of Economics and is known for her academic demeanor, Ms. Tsai is viewed as a moderate in the DPP. As chairwoman she has sought to increase the party’s contacts with China and has accepted the necessity of economic cooperation with China, while insisting that Taiwan should simultaneously broaden trade and investment ties with other countries.

Political analysts say that Ms. Tsai will seek to strike a balance between her party’s formal pro-independence stance and constructive engagement with China on economic issues. The DPP received a drubbing in 2008 presidential and legislative elections following widespread accusations of corruption against former president Chen Shui-bian, who was stridently anti-Beijing.

Analysts believe she is from a more moderate wing of the party which favors closer economic cooperation between China and Taiwan rather than pro-independence. From Christian Science Monitor:

“She represents a symbol of a new generation of leadership [that] will be more pragmatic, more moderate in its views toward China,” says Raymond Wu, managing director of Taipei-based political risk consultancy e-telligence. “China will go through a period of hearing her words and watching her deeds.”

Tsai said earlier this month she would advocate continued economic cooperation with China but treat the economic behemoth like any other trade partner by working through international bodies such as the World Trade Organization. The current government has dealt directly with Chinese officials, as Beijing prefers to keep foreign organizations out of affairs that it considers domestic.

“We are not a party that’s so conservative that we don’t want to see trade and economic exchanges with China,” the characteristically direct Tsai told an expatriate-run breakfast club in Taipei on April 23, speaking in fluent English that she learned in part while studying at Cornell University Law School and the London School of Economics.

“We do not have to create new rules or new structures for China,” she added. “We are both part of the multinational community.”

Some in Tsai’s often fractured party – which she has helped pull together as chairwoman since 2008 – still advocate a harder line toward Beijing. The party is unlikely to renounce that line, but experts say that to win the party must appeal to centrist voters and the largely pro-China Taiwanese business leadership.

“Anyone who wants to win has to lean toward center. You can’t win by being extremist,” says Shane Lee, political scientist at Chang Jung Christian University in Taiwan. “Tsai, by her character, is a very moderate reasonable person.”

The road to securing the nomination has been rather contentious. Some of Tsai’s detractors have questioned her sexual orientation. From China Post:

The single DPP chairwoman’s sexual orientation has always been a topic of mild speculation among political circles. Regardless, Shih’s remarks resulted in a backlash from fellow DPP members and outraged women’s rights groups, who yesterday demanded that he make a public apology to Tsai.

According to local media reports, Shih, a former political prisoner and DPP chairman from 1994 to 1996, believed that as someone who has a chance of winning the 2012 presidential election, the single Tsai had an obligation to reveal her sexual orientation to the public.

“If she directly answers the question, I will fully support her,” Shih reportedly said.

Tsai’s spokesperson Hsu Chia-ching has called Shih’s demands an “irresponsible attack,”accusing him of discrimination and violation of human rights.

According to women’s rights groups such as the Awakening Foundation, Gender/Sexuality Rights Association and Taipei Association for the Promotion of Women’s Rights (TAPWR), Shih’s remarks constitute a form of sexual bullying and harassment.

The various organizations uniformly urged Tsai not to respond to Shih’s comments.

Regarding local reports that Shih also questioned the “soft” leadership skills of women, the groups stated at a press conference yesterday that Shih’s behavior directly violated women’s rights

April 27, 2011 3:09 PM
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Categories: Politics, Taiwan