Members of Taiwan’s ruling Kuomintang party (KMT) voted Sunday to elect their new chair in a poll expected to return China-friendly President Ma Ying-jeo, who is standing unopposed.
Ma’s election could pave the way for a first meeting between the presidents of Taiwan and long-time rival China, which regards the island as part of its territory.
“The purpose of my running for the election, as I said before, is not to expand my power but to fulfil my responsibility,” Ma told reporters outside a polling station in Taipei.
If confirmed in the post, Ma would succeed Wu Po-hsiung, who is set to retire in September after leading the KMT to a landslide victory in last year’s presidential elections.
Wu, as head of Taiwan’s ruling party, met Chinese President Hu Jintao on the mainland last year in the highest level contact since the two sides split in 1949 after a civil war.
Ma previously headed the party between July 2005 and February 2007, when he resigned after being indicted for allegedly misusing his expenses as mayor of Taipei. He was cleared of the charges before taking office last year.
Ties with China have improved dramatically since Ma’s Beijing-friendly government was inaugurated last year, leading to the launch of regular direct flights and closer trade links.
Observers say that as chair, Ma would have greater power from within the KMT and find it easier to push through government policies in a parliament dominated by the party.
Voting began at 8:00 am in 519 polling stations islandwide and closes at 4:00 pm. Results are expected two hours later.
The KMT, which has 533,739 eligible voters, was also to elect 1,171 party representatives.