Taiwan opposition registers separate candidates after collapse of unity bid

The opposition’s failure to work together puts the DPP’s William Lai in pole position for January’s presidential election.

Foxconn founder Terry Gou, former President and KMT stalwart Ma Ying-jeou, and KMT presidential candidate Hou Yu-ih. They are seated at a table againt a black backdrop. They all seem to be talking at once.
Opposition efforts to forge a united front ended in disarray [Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters]

Taiwan’s opposition parties have registered separate candidates for next year’s presidential elections, hours after an attempt to field a joint ticket against the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) collapsed in acrimony on live television.

The main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) is fielding Hou Yu-ih for the presidency, while Ko Wen-je will run for the smaller Taiwan People’s Party (TPP).

The KMT chose pro-China media personality Jaw Shaw-kong as Hou’s running mate while the TPP opted for one of its lawmakers Cynthia Wu.

Terry Gou, the billionaire founder of Apple supplier Foxconn, announced in August he would run as an independent, but he lags far behind the other candidates in opinion polls, and it is not clear whether he will register with the elections commission by the 09:30 GMT Friday deadline.

“The failure of the (KMT-TPP) coalition has disappointed 60 percent of the public,” Hou claimed at a Friday press conference before going to register his candidacy.

“I called Ko at the last minute, but he did not answer. We have waited until the last moment.”

The January 13 election is taking place as Beijing, which views Taiwan as its own territory, steps up military and political pressure on the self-ruled island. The DPP, which says the people of Taiwan must be the ones to decide its future, is fielding current Vice President William Lai as its candidate, with Hsiao Bi-khim, Taipei’s former envoy in the United States, as his running mate. China has dubbed them “separatists” and the “independence duo”.

The opposition parties, who are seen as more Beijing-friendly, announced last week that they would field a joint candidate in a move that would have created a major challenge to Lai, who is far ahead in the polls.

But as they struggled to reach an agreement, the effort collapsed in a spectacular fashion late on Thursday when the KMT walked out of last-ditch talks at a Taipei hotel brokered by Gou and broadcast live on television.

In an event marked by argument and cross-talk, one of the most dramatic moments came when Hou read a private text message from Ko that said Gou needed to “find a reason” to drop out of the presidential race.

Ko, whose party is smaller, has performed above expectations, and has recently been polling neck and neck with Hou.

DPP united

Amid the turmoil in the opposition, the DPP has remained united with Lai and Hsiao registering on Tuesday and forging ahead with their campaign.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) vice presidential candidate Hsiao Bi-khim. She is sitting on a chair on stage. Two people on either side are bringing cups of tea.
Democratic Progressive Party [DPP] vice presidential candidate Hsiao Bi-khim prepares to speak to the media on Thursday [I-Hwa Cheng/AFP]

Speaking at a rally late on Thursday, Lai poured scorn on the opposition.

“Should we dare to hand over the business of running the country to these people?” he said. “Of course, this is not OK.”

China has long warned it is prepared to use force in order to take control of Taiwan, and the KMT has sought to portray itself as the party that can best work with China and avoid conflict.

Speaking at a meeting with the media on Thursday, the DPP’s Hsiao said war was “not an option” and that the party was committed to maintaining the status quo.

“It’s important that the international community … make clear to our counterparts across the Taiwan Strait that dialogue is the only way to resolve differences,” she said.

Beijing cut high-level contact with the island and stepped up military activities soon after President Tsai Ing-wen was first elected in 2016.

It kept up the pressure after she was returned in a landslide in the last election in 2020, and has also conducted large-scale military exercises to show its displeasure following high-profile visits to the island by politicians such as then-United States House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or overseas trips by Tsai and Lai.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies