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Politics

Taiwan presidential field swells as Foxconn founder eyes run

Competitive primary season awaits both ruling and opposition parties

Terry Gou could join a crowded field of presidential hopefuls for the January election.   © Reuters

TAIPEI -- The Foxconn founder's possible candidacy in the presidential race has further muddied Taiwan's electoral landscape less than nine months before the vote to select the next leader who will contend with such challenges as economic disparity and an increasingly aggressive Beijing.

As economic frustration erodes support for President Tsai Ing-wen, a number of candidates in the opposition and her own party are joining the presidential race slated for January.

The latest to express interest in joining the crowded fray is Terry Gou -- founder, chairman and CEO of key Apple supplier Hon Hai Precision Industry, or Foxconn.

"If I decide to run, I will join the primary election and will not accept direct recruitment from the party. I will make and share a decision in the next two days," he said Tuesday.

Gou has close ties to the China-friendly Kuomintang, which says he has been a member for 50 years. His fiery support was instrumental to then-President Ma Ying-jeou's reelection in 2012. A former Kuomintang vice chairman also sits on Foxconn's board as an independent director.

The Kuomintang decisively beat Tsai's Democratic Progressive Party in November's local elections, a major step toward possibly retaking the presidency. But first, the Kuomintang must settle on a candidate from among a host of possibilities.

The one drawing the most attention is Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu, a former general manager of Taipei Agricultural Products Marketing. Han has shot to prominence particularly among younger generations for provocative remarks sometimes likened to those by U.S. President Donald Trump. He could beat the DPP candidate by more than 10 points, a poll released by broadcaster TVBS last month found.

The unemployment rate for those aged 20 to 24 averaged 12% in Taiwan last year. Difficulties finding work, low wages and a growing wealth gap across all generations have also pushed the public away from the current government. Han is tapping this discontent with the promise of economic growth, particularly through selling farm products to China and attracting Chinese tourists.

Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou announced April 16 that he may run to become Taiwan's president.   © Reuters

Gou could mount a significant challenge against Han, given his track record turning Foxconn into a global powerhouse. "He has unparalleled experience as a business leader, and he would be extremely convincing in economic policy," said Meng Chih-cheng, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at National Cheng Kung University in Tainan.

"There is a definite possibility that Gou will become the Kuomintang's nominee and win the presidential election," Cheng said.

Others, such as former New Taipei Mayor Eric Chu and Kuomintang lawmaker Wang Jin-pyng, have thrown their hats into the ring. The Kuomintang is expected to make a decision around July.

On the other side of the aisle, the DPP also struggles to unite behind a single candidate. Most party members had agreed to support Tsai's bid for reelection, but ex-Premier William Lai unexpectedly announced his own run last month. Lai, a strong advocate of Taiwanese independence, has since rejected requests to step aside for Tsai. The DPP has pushed back the time frame for selecting a nominee from April to at least May 22.

Anti-China sentiment has grown in Taiwan since the start of the year as the mainland ramps up pressure for reunification. Early speculation that the DPP would benefit has been joined by growing concern over infighting.

Opinion is similarly mixed on Gou's impact, with some predicting setbacks for the Kuomintang and others seeing a publicity boost.

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