Taipei, April 23 (CNA) In a long-awaited statement on his 2020 presidential intentions, Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) hinted Tuesday that he was willing to jump into the race, just not in the KMT presidential primary.
"As for the KMT's presidential race this year, I cannot run in the primary under the existing system at this point in time," Han said in the statement, without explaining why.
He said, however, that he was willing to take the responsibility for Taiwan's future development, hinting at his interest in a presidential bid.
"I was born in Taiwan and grew up in Taiwan. I will die in Taiwan and be buried in Taiwan," Han said in the statement. "I ardently love the Republic of China so I am willing to take my responsibility for facilitating the ROC's development and protecting the ROC."
Han said that after he took office as Kaohsiung mayor, he has come to realize that only if Taiwan improves can Kaohsiung improve, and only if Taiwan changes will he be able to change Kaohsiung.
"It is urgent for Taiwan to change its political ecology," Han said. "I hope the KMT establishment will understand what people feel and pay close attention to how society is evolving."
Political observers interpreted Han's hesitance to take the initiative to run in the primary as reluctance to make any move seen as abandoning Kaohsiung so soon after becoming its mayor in late December 2018.
Han was surprisingly successful at whipping up voter enthusiasm that put him and Kaohsiung -- a traditional Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP's) stronghold -- in the national spotlight.
As a result, he has been perceived as a best bet for the KMT to win back the presidency in 2020 from the ruling DPP, and his supporters have urged the party in recent weeks to "draft" or "recruit" Han directly without a primary as its candidate for the 2020 presidential election.
He has consistently pulled in the highest support ratings of any KMT presidential aspirant and the best showings against potential opponents in opinion polls on the 2020 race.
Acknowledging that support, KMT Chairman Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) implied in a radio interview that the party will leave a window open for Han's presidential bid, but he still favored a primary.
Having Han take part in the party's primary "is fairer than directly drafting or inviting him," Wu said.
Other aspirants for the KMT nomination are former New Taipei Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫), former Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) and former Taipei County Magistrate Chou Hsi-wei (周錫瑋).
Terry Gou (郭台銘), chairman of Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., announced his intention to participate in the KMT's presidential primary last week, but the latest polls show Han ahead of Gou.