Ma faces calls to quit as party chief after polls losses
PRESSURE is building for Taiwan's President to step down as chief of the island's China-friendly ruling party after an unprecedented election battering by the opposition threw into doubt efforts to build closer ties with its giant neighbour.
With presidential elections due within two years, President Ma Ying-jeou is unlikely to be able to push forward stalled trade talks with China, which views Taiwan as a breakaway province to be taken back by force, if necessary.
Giving up the party chairman's role as a gesture to take responsibility for the election losses, as some within the party are demanding, does not require Mr Ma to relinquish the presidency. The Straits Times, citing local media reports, said he is expected to step down on Wednesday.
Mr Ma is serving his second, and final, four-year term as president, which ends in 2016.
The beating his Kuomintang (KMT) party took in Saturday's local elections shows that its strategy built with Beijing, to pull the island closer using economic ties, is failing, said Nicholas Consonery, of political risk consultancy Eurasia Group.
"It is quite negative for Taiwan-China relations," said Mr Consonery, a director of the US-based body, referring to the election result, which prompted premier Jiang Yi-huah to resign.
Within hours of the poll results, barbed wire was hastily run atop the metal gates protecting the KMT's headquarters in Taipei, as a smattering of protesters gathered outside, shouting "Ma, step down!" Inside, Mr Ma bowed deeply before cameras and apologised for the loss. The protest petered out quickly, but the negative sentiment has been growing for some time.
In March, thousands of young Taiwanese occupied Parliament in a demonstration, dubbed the Sunflower movement, against a planned trade pact calling for closer ties with Beijing.
China is Taiwan's largest trading partner and has preferred to deal with the party of Chiang Kai-shek that retreated to the island after losing the Chinese civil war in 1949.
The alternative is the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which advocates independence. It now controls major cities in southern Taiwan and prevailed on Saturday in two former KMT strongholds - Taipei and Taichung, in central Taiwan.
Saturday's results were a victory for the people of Taiwan, said Tsai Ing-wen, the chairman of the DPP, who is widely tipped to be a contender in the 2016 presidential race.
"We will start from the local level and win back Taiwan," she said. "If a government doesn't stand on the side of the people, the people can take away its power."