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Eric Chu should not rule out candidacy in 2016: Ma (update)

2015/05/16 13:00:10

Ma Ying-jeou (left) and Eric Chu

Taipei, May 16 (CNA) President Ma Ying-jeou is "anxious" that no top-notch candidates have emerged from Taiwan's ruling party Kuomintang (KMT) and said that Eric Chu, its chairman, should not rule out his own candidacy in the 2016 presidential election, according to an interview published Saturday.

"As party chairman, (Eric Chu) has the responsibility to find the most suitable candidate," Ma told Apple Daily, a tabloid-style newspaper. "If that fails, he himself has decent qualities and should not dodge the responsibility that is his to shoulder."

Ma made the comments as presidential hopefuls had only hours left to pick up a registration form for the KMT primary before the deadline at 4 p.m. Saturday.

So far only three have picked up a form and none is considered a "Class A" candidate strong enough to beat Tsai Ing-wen, chairwoman of the Progressive Democratic Party (DPP) and the only opposition candidate that has emerged.

In the interview, the president stopped short of encouraging Chu, who is also mayor of New Taipei City, to stand in the election.

"All I can say is that I have always hoped for the candidate with the best chance of winning the election to be our nominee," Ma said.

"I have not had the opportunity to meet with other candidates who also have a good chance of winning," he added.

Ma gave the interview on Friday, when Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng indicated that he would not throw his hat in the ring.

Chu, 53, is widely considered as being the KMT's only chance of beating Tsai, who also ran in 2012 in a failed bid to unseat Ma, the incumbent. Ma, who became president in 2008, is barred by the Constitution from running for a third term and is due to step down in May 2016.

The New Taipei mayor has said several times, however, that he will fulfill his promise to the voters to complete his second four-year term, which began in December 2014.

Citing his own candidacy in the 1998 Taipei mayoral election as an example, Ma suggested that Chu should put the interests of his party and the nation first even though the New Taipei mayor would surely come under criticism if he goes back on his word.

"Personal considerations should be set aside when our party is in this kind of situation," Ma said.

In 1998, many people expected then-Mayor Chen Shui-bian to win re-election "hands down" but Ma said he decided to "shoulder the heavy burden" of challenging the DPP mayor with the encouragement of party elders even though he was then a "mere college professor." Ma won the election by 51 percent of the vote, compared with Chen's 46 percent.

If he had not run and if Chen had been re-elected, Ma said, he would have been criticized by KMT supporters.

Asked whether he would run in the election scheduled for next January if he were Chu, Ma said: "Of course...How could I run away if I were chairman of the party?"

Ma was KMT chairman until last January, when he resigned to take responsibility for the party's heavy defeat in the local government elections in November.

Following Ma's comments, there was no immediate reaction from Chu, but the party chairman is expected to talk to reporters in the afternoon on the progress of the KMT primary.

So far the only KMT members who have picked up a registration form to run for president are: Deputy Legislative Speaker Hung Hsiu-chu, former Health Minister Yaung Chih-liang, and Huang Po-shou, the chief secretary of Dayuan Township in Taoyuan County (now Taoyuan City).

Candidates are required to register for the KMT primary on May 17 or 18. A national party convention will formally decide the nomination on July 19.

Apparently to pre-empt any criticism against Ma for the party's dilemma, a Presidential Office spokesman said Saturday that Ma did not ask Chu to seek re-election last November as New Taipei mayor, as suggested by some commentators.

The president "fully respected the decision of New Taipei Mayor Eric Chu on whether to run for re-election, did not intervene and could not have intervened," said Charles Chen.

"It's even less plausible that (President Ma) made arrangements for a specific individual to become the future presidential candidate," Chen added.

(By Kelven Huang and Jay Chen)