Taiwan News
Female face-off
Taiwan will soon get its first woman president
Jun 20th 2015 | TAIPEI

WHEN the standing committee of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) made Hung Hsiu-chu (pictured) the party’s presidential candidate on June 17th, it was clear that Taiwan’s next leader will be a woman. The country goes to the polls in January; term limits demand that President Ma Ying-jeou step down.

Ms Hung, deputy speaker of the Legislative Yuan, the parliament, had earlier passed a KMT primary, consisting of two public-opinion polls, with flying colours. Assuming Ms Hung’s candidacy is formally approved at her party’s congress on July 19th, she will take on Tsai Ing-wen, the presidential candidate of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Neither Taiwan nor indeed China, which claims it, has had a female leader before.

For an old-style KMT type, Ms Hung, who is 67, has an unusual background. She grew up in poverty. And though her father came from mainland China with Chiang Kai-shek’s forces in the 1940s, he was for some of Ms Hung’s childhood locked up in the island’s harshest prison for alleged Communist connections, while Chiang’s thuggish police harassed the family.

Ms Hung was first a teacher before entering politics. With a fiery style, she got the nickname of “Little Hot Pepper”. Last month she put herself forward as a presidential candidate when none of the party’s titans volunteered. Morale has been at rock-bottom thanks to Mr Ma’s listless presidency, and a painful drubbing for the KMT in local elections in November.

Ms Tsai, who is 58, is the better-known politician. A lawyer who studied in America and Britain, she has led her party since 2008, a nadir for the DPP following the disgrace of its president, Chen Shui-bian, over corruption. With an air of steady competence, Ms Tsai has done much to raise her party’s standing—and morale.

Dealings with China, as ever, will be central to the presidential campaign. Mr Ma has eased tensions across the Taiwan Strait by signing business agreements with China. But these policies have lost broad support because of the belief that they serve big companies. Last year huge if peaceful protests came out in Taipei, the island’s capital, against the agreements. Ms Hung’s lack of business connections may help her. But she is stridently in favour of unification—on balance a political liability. More Taiwanese than ever think their culture is not China’s.

Many in the DPP favour declaring outright independence rather than upholding the figleaf that Taiwan is part of China. Ms Tsai herself sounded pragmatic on a recent trip to Washington, DC, by promising to pursue peaceful relations with China. It will have reassured her hosts, who do not want a cross-strait crisis. The presidential race will be gripping, but probably not attended by fireworks.

Source: The Economist


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