Published On: Fri, Sep 9th, 2011

Taiwan opposition cements moderate path with running mate

TAIPEI – Taiwan’s opposition presidential candidate chose a moderate as her running mate for the January poll, cementing a shift in the once staunchly pro-independence party towards a pragmatic centre ground less likely to irritate China.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate Tsai Ing-wen said on Friday that Su Jia-chyuan, 54, a former minister and currently the party’s secretary general, will partner her on the ticket for the Jan. 14 election.

Tsai, also 54, has been credited with revitalising the DPP’s fortunes after its heavy loss in the 2008 poll and the subsequent jailing of former President Chen Shui-bian on corruption charges.

Taiwanese presidential elections, held every four years, are closely watched by China, which considers the island to be a breakaway province and was infuriated by the pro-independence leaning of the previous DPP administration from 2000-2008.

Tsai has shifted to a much less antagonistic stance towards China, and is focusing her election campaign on pressing domestic livelihood issues such as jobs, housing prices and a widening wealth gap.

That has helped her narrow the gap with incumbent Nationalist President Ma Ying-jeou, a Harvard graduate running for a second term on the strength of his pro-China business policies that have boosted Taiwan’s economy.

An opinion poll this week in the pro-DPP Liberty Times newspaper put support for Tsai at 33.9 percent versus 36.9 percent for Ma, suggesting a close race.

“In this election the area where Ma is going to struggle is in a lack of feeling for the economy,” said Wang Yeh-lih, a professor of politics at National Taiwan University. “He stresses a lot of beautiful numbers but the people’s perception is the most important.”

Su, agriculture and interior minister during the DPP’s last administration from 2000-2008, began his political career in his native Pingtung County in southern Taiwan, becoming county chief before entering national politics.

He narrowly lost the 2010 election for mayor of the central city of Taichung, a key electoral battleground, to the ruling Nationalist party, one of a series of local polls that were seen as an indicator of national sentiment.

“Su’s biggest help to Tsai will be his popularity in Taiwan’s southern regions,” said Wang. “He gives an impression of being honest, pragmatic and hardworking.”

“He and Tsai will definitely complement each other. She is the chairwoman and he is the party secretary general, so cooperation within the party will be very good.”

However, Wang noted that the running mate’s role in Taiwanese presidential elections is secondary, and would not ultimately have much impact on the bigger battle between Tsai and Ma.

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