TAIPEI -- Former Premier Lai Ching-te declared his candidacy for president Monday in Taiwan's 2020 election, setting the stage for a fierce race with incumbent Tsai Ing-wen to become the nominee of the island's pro-independence ruling party.
"I want to fulfill my responsibility to protect Taiwan," the former premier, also known as William Lai, told reporters at the Democratic Progressive Party's Taipei headquarters. Lai, who previously signaled that he would not challenge Tsai, filed to run on Monday as the DPP began taking applications. Tsai plans to do likewise within the week.
Lai openly favors an independent Taiwan, unlike the more moderate Tsai. Beijing will take notice if he becomes the DPP presidential candidate.
A star within the party, Lai is regarded as more popular than Tsai. But even with him leading the way, the DPP faces a struggle to retain power in January's election. Recent polling heavily favors potential candidates from Kuomintang, the pro-China leading opposition party, as well as independents like Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je.
The party is scheduled to nominate its candidate April 17. If members cannot agree through internal discussions, the decision will be made based on public opinion surveys.
Lai's decision to run seems spurred in part by legislative by-elections Saturday, in which a Lai-backed DPP candidate triumphed in the southern city of Tainan -- a party stronghold -- after an unexpectedly bitter fight to fend off a Kuomintang offensive.
Lai stepped down as the country's premier in January after the DPP suffered heavy losses in local elections.