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Taiwan’s ruling party replaces pro-Beijing candidate Hung Hsiu-chu

Hung Shiu-chu, former ruling Kuomintang (KMT) presidential candidate, waves during the party congress in Taipei on October 17, 2015. Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang (KMT) ousted its own presidential candidate as the deeply divided party struggles for public support ahead of the vote
Sam Yeh | AFP | Getty Images
Hung Shiu-chu, former ruling Kuomintang (KMT) presidential candidate, waves during the party congress in Taipei on October 17, 2015. Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang (KMT) ousted its own presidential candidate as the deeply divided party struggles for public support ahead of the vote

Taiwan's governing party has taken the drastic step of replacing its candidate for January's presidential election, reflecting growing unease about its candidate's plans for closer relations with the mainland.

At an emergency meeting on Saturday, delegates from the Kuomintang or Nationalist party voted to replace Hung Hsiu-chu, the straight-talking legislator who polls showed was trailing Democratic Progressive party candidate Tsai Ing-wen.

The all-female election would have been a first for Taiwan and guaranteed the election of its first female president. But analysts say Ms Hung's views on cross-strait relations, including advocating a peace treaty with China, made voters uneasy.

"Her views on Taiwan's future relations with China were out of step with mainstream opinion in Taiwan. They went beyond what most Taiwanese — KMT voters included — are willing to countenance," said J Michael Cole of Thinking Taiwan, a think-tank backed by Ms Tsai's foundation.

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"Taiwanese were generally OK with liberalisation of cross-strait ties, but they have drawn clear lines and Ms Hung was threatening to cross those."

Current president Ma Ying-jeou, who will complete his second four-year term next year, generally improved relations with China, but recently plans for a trade agreement sparked opposition. That proposal contributed to the KMT suffering big losses in local elections in November.

The Kuomintang party said that the decision was intended to "cope with a severe test of the party's survival and development". Some candidates and village chiefs had refused to run under the KMT flag or support the party with Ms Hung in charge.

If the January 16 election goes as polls now predict, the DPP could win the presidency and a majority in the legislature for the first time.

At the meeting on Saturday, 812 of 891 delegates voted to remove Ms Hung. She will be replaced by Eric Chu, KMT's chairman and mayor of New Taipei. Mr Chu and other KMT heavyweights had declined to challenge Ms Hung for the nomination in July.

Mr Cole said that events in Hong Kong, where Beijing has recently moved to tighten control of the territory under the "One Country, Two Systems" framework, have made Taiwanese nervous about moving closer to Beijing.

Beijing views Taiwan, which has been independently governed since 1949, as a breakaway province to be recovered by force if necessary.