Taipei: Taiwan’s ruling party has began electing a new chairman – a post vacated by President Tsai Ing-wen after a recent electoral mauling – in a vote closely watched by China and the United States.
Tsai and her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won a 2016 landslide, sweeping away a government that had built much closer ties to China over the previous decade.
The result rattled Beijing because Tsai refuses to acknowledge that the self-ruled island is part of “one China”.
Beijing cut communication with her administration, stepped up military drills, poached several of Taiwan’s dwindling diplomatic allies and started economically pressuring the island.
But in November, Tsai’s DPP suffered a string of defeats in local elections, fuelled by a backlash over her domestic reforms and deteriorating ties with China, easily Taiwan’s largest market.
Tsai resigned the party chairmanship but stayed on as president.
Analysts say the vote for the new party head will set the tone for the run-up to next year’s presidential election.
“It’s important because the international community, and China, will be watching,” J. Michael Cole, a Taipei-based expert with the University of Nottingham’s China Policy Institute, said.
“Any major departure from longstanding policy under President Tsai could alarm international partners and give Beijing ammunition to further crack down on Taiwan.”
Voting began Sunday morning with results expected to be announced in the evening.
China still sees Taiwan as part of its territory to be reunified, despite the two sides being ruled separately since they split in 1949.
While Beijing has reacted frostily to Tsai, she is from a much more moderate wing within her party that favours talks.
She is squeezed between China and more radical members of her own party who favour pushing for independence – something Taiwan has never formally declared.
One of those standing for the chairmanship is You Ying-lung, a polling expert deeply critical of Tsai. — AFP