VP Lai Ching-te elected as DPP chairman
Taipei, Jan. 15 (CNA) Vice President Lai Ching-te (賴清德) is set to take charge of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) after winning the party's uncontested chairmanship election on Sunday.
Lai won the election with 41,840 votes, or 99.65 percent of the total cast on a day when turnout was only 17.59 percent, said DPP Acting Secretary-General Sidney Lin (林鶴明).
Still, the turnout was slightly higher than the 16.9 percent recorded in the DPP's party chair election held in early 2019, won by Cho Jung-tai (卓榮泰).
According to Lin, Lai will officially take up the post on Wednesday during a DPP central standing committee session. His tenure will run until May 20, 2024, when Taiwan's next president will be inaugurated.
In a Facebook post, Lai thanked DPP members for supporting him.
"My goal is crystal clear, to unite the party and to polish its image as an honest, diligent and grassroots party that is known for its quality administration," Lai said in the post.
The party will continue to promote democracy and safeguard Taiwan's peace and prosperity amid global turbulence, he said.
The victory could work to Lai's advantage for his widely rumored presidential bid in 2024, but the path forward will not be easy as the 63-year-old chairman-elect first has to take on some major challenges facing the party.
These include bringing the DPP back on track after a bruising defeat in last November's local government elections, restoring unity in an increasingly divided party, and trying to win back the support of young voters.
In the local government elections on Nov. 26, 2022, the DPP managed to secure only five of the 21 city and county leadership posts being contested -- the worst performance the party has delivered in such elections since its establishment in 1986.
The results prompted an immediate resignation that night by President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) as the party's chairperson, while a Cabinet reshuffle is also likely pending, with the Presidential Office having said that the issue would be decided next week.
The DPP subsequently lost two other elections -- the Chiayi mayoral election in December and a legislative by-election in Taipei in January, to the main opposition Kuomintang (KMT), which added to its victories in 14 mayoral and county magistrate races on Nov. 26, 2022.
Since announcing his party chairmanship bid in December, Lai had embarked on a nationwide tour to present his policy platforms, pledging to get the DPP back on its feet as quickly as possible and foster greater unity in the party.
However, some DPP supporters have repeatedly called for Legislator Kao Chia-yu (高嘉瑜) to be expelled from the party and Legislator Mark Ho (何志偉) and Taipei City Councilor Wang Shih-cheng (王世堅) to be disciplined.
The three have come under fire after leveling criticisms at the DPP leadership and the Tsai administration after the November elections, causing concerns that their comments would increase the party's dip in popularity.
In response to those calls, Lai has said that freedom of expression should be respected in the party but false accusations must not be tolerated.
Lai also vowed to win back the trust and support of Taiwanese voters by responding to feedback made by the public and increasing engagement with young people.
The DPP has attributed its failure in the local government elections mainly to the party's inability to garner the support of young and independent voters.
After assuming the chairmanship, Lai's first test will be the legislative by-election in what has traditionally been regarded as a KMT stronghold, Nantou County, on March 4.
The DPP's candidate, former Legislator Tsai Pei-hui (蔡培慧), will compete against the KMT's Lin Ming-chen (林明溱).
Lin has just discharged his duties as Nantou County magistrate after having finished his second term, for the legislative seat left vacant by the KMT's Hsu Shu-hua (許淑華) after she ran for and won the county's magistracy in the Nov. 26 local elections.
Should Lai later set out to seek the country's top job, his stance on Taiwan independence and policy on cross-strait relations with China will come under close scrutiny.
He has on more than one occasion described himself as a "Taiwanese independence worker," including at the Legislature when he served as the premier from 2017-2019.
He said he would not seek de-jure Taiwan independence, because "Taiwan is already a sovereign and independent nation called the Republic of China."
These comments have led Chinese officials to criticize Lai for trying to ramp up cross-strait tensions and destabilize the Taiwan Strait.
During his most recent overseas trip to Palau last November, Lai told a press conference that by saying "Taiwan independence," he actually meant to convey the idea that "Taiwan is not part of China."
Asked if he would adopt Tsai Ing-wen's cross-strait policy and advocate the maintenance of the cross-strait status quo should he run for president, Lai gave a positive answer, saying that his position was to defend Taiwan's sovereignty and preserve its democratic and constitutional system.
Born in 1959 in New Taipei, Lai practiced medicine until he was elected as a representative of the now defunct National Assembly in 1996.
He then served as a lawmaker from 1999 before being elected as Tainan mayor in 2010, a role he occupied until September 2017 when he was appointed by Tsai to be the premier.
He stepped down from that post after the DPP suffered a dismal defeat in the local government elections in 2018.
In 2019, he challenged Tsai's re-election bid by running in the DPP's presidential primary, which he eventually lost.
Lai was later picked by Tsai as her running mate in the 2020 presidential election and has served as the vice president since May 2020.
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