Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou said he was stepping down as chairman of the ruling party in a widely expected move after the Kuomintang was trounced in local elections on the weekend, Reuters reported.
Ma’s resignation Tuesday reflects the crisis that has gripped the KMT, which lost key cities in northern and central Taiwan in the polls.
The party’s policies have controversially ushered in deeper economic ties with mainland China, which views the island as a breakaway province.
Ma’s resignation from the party post does not affect his position as president. He is serving his second, and final, four-year term, which ends in 2016.
But the pace of improvement in cross-strait relations could slow next year, as Ma is unlikely be able to effectively steer policy within the ruling party and in government.
“This is the worst crisis for the KMT since we fled to Taiwan,” Li-Keng Kuei-fong, a member of KMT’s central committee, was quoted by Reuters as saying.
The party of Chiang Kai-shek that retreated to Taiwan after losing the Chinese civil war in 1949 is seen as friendly to China even though Beijing has never renounced the use of force to take back the island.
Since 2008, when Ma came to power, economic ties have flourished.
However, in the past year, suspicion about Taiwan becoming too reliant on China economically at the cost of the island’s political autonomy has manifested itself in demonstrations.
In March, thousands of protesters, blocked the ratification of a cross-strait trade services agreement in an unprecedented sit-in in parliament.
“The KMT must undergo a revolutionary change otherwise it won’t survive,” said Alfred Lin, at 24, the youngest member of the party’s central committee.
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