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Mayor Ma elected as KMT chairman in landslide victory

Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou was elected the Kuomintang chairman in a landslide victory in the party's first-ever direct leadership election yesterday.

Ma defeated his only contender, Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng, by garnering 72.4 percent of the total 518,324 votes cast. Wang took 27.6 percent of the votes and lost in all districts, including the power base in his home county of Kaohsiung.

Ma said that he will keep his campaign promise of retaining Wang as the party's first vice chairman, and making Wang's 15-point campaign promise part of his policy within the party.

He also promised to make the current Chairman Lien Chan the party's honorary chairman after Lien steps down next month.

Ma said he will negotiate with the KMT's two political allies, the People First Party and the New Party on issues of cooperation in the year-end elections of county and city chiefs.

Wang telephoned Ma to concede defeat even before all the ballots were counted, but he reportedly turned down the victor's request for a meeting.

"I have phoned Mayor Ma and gave him my best wishes. I failed to win the race because I started the campaign late and because of my lack of competence," Wang told a press conference.

Wang said he would serve as a "life-long KMT volunteer to make contributions to the party's future."

He declined to say whether he would continue to serve as a vice chairman of the party if Ma offered him the post.

About half a million, or 50 percent, of all KMT members went to the polls with hopes that the successful challenger will reinvigorate the party after its last two election defeats and return it to power.

Voters were already lined up at some of the 680 polling booths across the island as they opened at 8:00 am. They were also to vote, before polls close at 4:00 pm, for 985 party delegates from 1,356 candidates.

"It's really a crucial election and it's very difficult to decide who to choose," said Hsia Chao-ping, 58, waiting outside a polling station in Taipei.

"The KMT really need a capable leader with integrity to unite the opposition forces to win the next presidential election," he said.

Please see MA on page

Ma and Wang were both running on a platform of fighting corruption, pushing for democratic reforms and promoting harmony between the Kuomintang's factions, which embrace around one million members.

They also vowed to safeguard Taiwan's sovereignty in the face of territorial claims by Beijing, but have rejected President Chen Shui bian's Democratic Progressive Party's push towards independence.

"I hope for a fair, just and transparent election," Ma said after casting his vote in Taipei.

Wang, while casting his ballot in a crowded polling station in southern Kaohsiung county, said he was confident that he would win the election.

The winner will succeed Lien Chan, who twice ran unsuccessfully for president and has made clear he will retire from domestic politics in August and devote himself to improving relations with China.

"This election is significant for democratic partisan politics," Lien said, referring to the first time that KMT members are directly electing their chairman.

"I hope the vitality seen in this race will expand and impact on other upcoming elections," he said outside a polling station in Taipei.

The outgoing leader then left for the United States to attend the July 18-19 meeting of the International Democratic Union, a grouping of conservative political parties. Both candidates saw him off at the capital's airport.

Ma, a former justice minister, is a strong advocate of the KMT policy of eventual unification with China, from which Taiwan split in a civil war in 1949.

Throughout his campaign against Wang, he criticized the ruling Democratic Progressive Party's policies of strengthening Taiwan's status as a self-governing entity and underscoring the non Chinese aspects of its culture and history.

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