Ma to resign as KMT chairman today
TAIWAN'S President Ma Ying-jeou will resign as head of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party after it suffered a historic defeat in local elections, a move that could further weaken its prospects of retaining power in 2016.
Mr Ma, 64, will step down today at a meeting of the party's central standing committee, according to a transcript of his comments distributed by the party yesterday. The decision came days after the KMT had the worst showing in its history in local elections, losing nine of 15 mayorships and county-head positions it had held going into Saturday's vote.
"The KMT hasn't kept up with the people's expectations," Mr Ma told a group of senior party members at a meeting yesterday. He apologised to supporters and said he would reflect on his own missteps, while appealing for party unity.
The KMT has governed Taiwan for all but eight of the past 65 years, and support for the party has sunk under Mr Ma. His approval ratings have slumped to record lows over his management of the economy, his handling of a series of public scandals and his policy of shepherding closer relations with China.
The world's second-largest economy is at once Taiwan's largest export market and a historical foe that claims the island and keeps more than 1,000 missiles aimed at Taiwan.
The main opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which backs independence from China, stands to benefit most from its better-than-forecast performance in the local vote and the KMT's unravelling.
"There's no clear front-runner for the new KMT chairman, but it doesn't really matter who will be the next one, because whoever is running for the KMT in the 2016 presidential election will almost certainly lose," said Chang Ling-chen, a political science professor at the National Taiwan University. "The local elections over the weekend have clearly conveyed the message: how pervasive the public discontent is with the ruling party."
Premier Jiang Yi-huah resigned on election night, saying the results were a clear signal that the administration's policies were not supported by the Taiwan people.
The vice-president of Taiwan's legislature, Hung Hsiu-chu, will become acting KMT leader, the Taipei-based United Daily News reported yesterday. She can helm the group for three months before a permanent head must be elected, according to the KMT's charter.
Mr Ma, who became president in 2008, was elected as KMT chairman three times; in 2005, 2009 and last year. The party's charter was revised last year so that any KMT leader elected to the Taiwanese presidency would also assume the party leadership. Mr Ma said at the time that the new rules would foster more cooperation between the party and the government.