Taiwan's ruling party has picked a new leader, hoping he can help put the party back on its feet after a serious local election setback in December. A loss by the party in the next presidential election could bring big changes to Taiwan's relationship with China.
Yu Shyi-kun, a former Taiwanese premier and until recently chief of staff to President Chen Shui-bian, beat two rivals Sunday to become the new head of the Democratic Progressive Party. He succeeds Su Tseng-chang, who stepped down after the party's overwhelming defeat in last month's local elections.
However, many party members have blamed President Chen for losing the support of the public.
Mr. Chen, a forceful advocate of Taiwan's independence from China, is barred by law from running for another term. But Taiwanese political commentator Lu Yi-cheng says the election of Yu, a close ally of Mr. Chen, means Mr. Chen will still exert great influence within the party during his final two-and-a-half years in office.
"Everybody knows that since the elections of December 3rd, he (Chen) has been criticized both inside and outside," he said. "Mr. Yu, the former prime minister who enjoys the support of Mr. Chen Shui-bian, would ensure Mr. Chen that at least he doesn't have to fear intra-party strife, which would further weaken his position."
Yu is considered one of the leading candidates to become the DPP's presidential nominee in the 2008 election. The party has been plagued by a rising unemployment rate and corruption scandals, and DPP members say they expect Yu to undertake reforms to improve the party's image before that election.
One of the overriding facts of political life in Taiwan is its relationship with China. After the communist victory in 1949, the Nationalist government fled to Taiwan along with its followers and established a new government there. However, Beijing claims the self-governing island is still Chinese territory, and has threatened to take it back, by force if necessary.
President Chen is known for his tough stance towards the mainland, which did not soften after December's electoral defeat. In a controversial New Year's address, he made it clear he will continue to take steps to demonstrate Taiwan's autonomy, even if he stops short of making a formal declaration of independence from China.
The opposition Nationalist Party, once the arch-enemy of the mainland's communist government, is now working for closer ties with China. And a Nationalist victory in 2008 could bring significant changes in the Taiwan-China relationship.