Former Taiwan premier Chang San-cheng joins KMT ticket as vice-presidential candidate for 2020

Sarah Zheng

Taiwanese presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu announced on Monday that former premier Chang San-cheng would be his vice-presidential running mate on the opposition Kuomintang’s ticket for the island’s election in January.

Han, the populist mayor of the southern city of Kaohsiung, said Chang – one of his campaign’s national policy advisers – was the “first choice” because of their shared values and their views on economic policy. The selection of Chang may also reflect hesitation among more established KMT names to add their names to the ballot.

Analysts said the choice of running mate would improve Han’s image among voters. The men leading the mainland-friendly Kuomintang (KMT) ticket will challenge incumbent Tsai Ing-wen from the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the January 11 poll.

Mark Harrison, a Taiwan specialist at the University of Tasmania in Hobart, said Han’s choice of running mate reflected the difficult balance between “his appeal as a populist and the electoral need to present a serious and viable candidacy”.

“For Han, his choice of an experienced politician like Chang San-cheng signals an effort to bring his campaign back to the centre somewhat and perhaps present himself less as a political disrupter and more as a KMT candidate conservative voters can live with,” he said.

Chang, who had intended to run as an independent, said he wanted to join Han to bring civility back to Taiwanese politics since many people were tired of the partisanship between the pan-green DPP and pan-blue KMT parties.

“I am not green or blue; my heart only has right and wrong, without any colours,” he said. “Alongside Han, I want to bring the country back to the essence of good and honest politics.”

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Han said that he and Chang would “work hard to fight for the Republic of China and the Taiwanese people”, using the formal name for Taiwan.

The announcement came two months before Taiwan’s critical elections, where cross-strait relations have become a major campaign issue, particularly in the face of five months of anti-government protests in Hong Kong.

The relationship between Beijing and Taipei has become strained under Tsai’s administration, which rejected the “1992 consensus” and the understanding that there was only “one China” – something Beijing said was a prerequisite for talks between the two sides.

DPP incumbent Tsai Ing-wen now faces the populist Han Kuo-yu and the veteran Chang San-cheng on the KMT ticket. Photo: Facebook

Beijing claims sovereignty over the self-ruled island, and has not renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan into its fold.

While the KMT campaigned for the “1992 consensus”, Tsai has linked it to Beijing’s proposal of a “one country, two systems” framework for Taiwan, which polls showed most Taiwanese people reject.

Chang has said that the KMT should no longer stick to the 1992 consensus, and instead proposed a “more neutral” idea of “constitutional one China, Taiwan first”.

On Monday, Han and Chang repeated their desire to remove Tsai from office and bring stability to cross-strait relations, chanting slogans such as, “The people will have money if Taiwan is safe.”

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But analysts said Han and the KMT would be unlikely to change their cross-strait approach, even with Chang on the ticket.

Analysts said the choice to go with Chang, who has years of administrative experience, would improve Han’s chances.

They also said it was notable that he was chosen instead of KMT heavyweights such as Eric Chu Li-luan, the party’s nominee in the 2016 election.

Nick Lin, assistant research fellow at Academia Sinica in Taipei, said selecting Chang reflected an effort to “reboot Han’s image” as someone who was more focused on broad concepts rather than specific policies, but that selecting Chu would have also signalled that the KMT was “unified internally as a party”.

“This will definitely add points for Han, because it will improve his overall image, but it will be limited because Chang was already one of his advisers, so he was already part of Han’s team,” he said.

“I think that people do not care that much about the vice-president because it is more about the candidate themselves, with the vice-president in more of a supporting role, although in recent years, the choice will more or less have an impact for the overall team.”

Chen Lu-huei, research fellow from National Chengchi University’s Election Study Centre, said media reports suggested that Han had faced difficulties in finding a running mate, since some of the prospects might have not wanted to join the ticket while Han was polling lower than Tsai.

“This may have made some vice-presidential candidates feel it would be better for them personally to come out after 2024,” he said. “With these considerations, Chang San-cheng came out as a result.”

Tsai has not yet selected her running mate, but Taiwanese media said she might choose former premier William Lai Ching-te as her vice-presidential candidate, even though he sought to challenge her in the DPP primaries this year.

Taiwan’s pro-independence former premier William Lai to challenge President Tsai Ing-wen

Chen said Lai’s appointment as premier had helped Tsai when her public support was low, so selecting him as her running mate would not only support a unified public image of the DPP but also reassure the more pro-independence elements within the party.

“Lai also has relatively fewer controversies and his image in society is not bad, so it would appear to be the best choice at this stage,” he said.

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