Tsai picks former premier as running mate for re-election bid

TAIPEI (CNA) — President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) on Sunday picked former Premier Lai Ching-te (賴清德) as her running mate for the 2020 Presidential election.

“I hereby announce my invitation to former Premier Lai as my running mate for the 2020 presidential and vice-presidential elections,” Tsai said at a press conference held in her Taipei election office.

Tsai cited reforms that started during Lai’s tenure as premier, such as tax reforms, subsidized preschool education, long-term care programs, and improvements in the business environment and investment climate, among others, and said these measures are now starting to bear fruit.

With Lai as Tsai’s running mate, the current Vice President Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁) has agreed to be Tsai’s campaign chief for her re-election bid.

Lai, a 60-year-old physician who entered public service when he was 35, has since been elected and served 11 years as a legislator before he was voted mayor of Tainan in 2010, serving two terms, and eventually appointed premier by Tsai in September 2017 until January 2019.

However, Lai also stood against Tsai in the DPP’s presidential primary in June, in a bruising contest to replace Tsai as the party’s presidential candidate, after some pro-Taiwan independence figures publicly called on her not to seek a second term.

“No matter how fierce the competition was, in the end we are united under the goal of a strong Taiwan,” Tsai said. “From the beginning, I only have one conviction: to win, to safeguard Taiwan,” she added.

Meanwhile, Lai warned that the 2020 elections will be crucial and said the DPP’s foremost missions are to unite and protect Taiwan amid social unrest in Hong Kong that began with an extradition bill and China’s continued coercion against Taiwan.

“I will do everything I can to help President Tsai accomplish her goals, which are to win re-election and secure a legislative majority,” Lai vowed during his acceptance speech.

Taiwan’s presidential election will take place on Jan 11, 2020. The Tsai-Lai ticket’s main challenge is expected to come from the Kuomintang’s Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜), currently mayor of Kaohsiung, and Chang San-cheng (張善政), also a former premier.

Another set of presidential and vice-presidential hopefuls are People First Party’s Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) and Sandra Yu (余湘), former chairwoman of an advertising firm.

Tuan Yi-kang (段宜康), a DPP legislator, said Lai can help Tsai garner votes in the south, which is considered a stronghold of Lai support; Lo Chih-cheng (羅致政), also a DPP legislator, said Lai can consolidate support from the overtly pro-Taiwan independence “deep green” camp and allow Tsai to concentrate on youth and swing votes.

The opposition KMT described the Tsai-Lai ticket as Tsai compromising with the pro-Taiwan independence faction in the DPP.

“Tsai unsurprisingly picked Lai, who called himself a pragmatic worker for Taiwan Independence, as her running mate. This shows that she depends on pro-independent forces to grab votes when she is helpless in governance,” the KMT said in a statement.

Lai served as Tsai’s premier but then chose to run against her in the DPP presidential primary, which implies he disapproved of Tsai’s performance and leadership, the KMT said, arguing that Lai only accepted the offer under political pressure.

By Emerson Lim, Gu Chuan and Ye Su-ping