Presidential candidates' running mates prepare for key debate in Taiwan

Presidential candidates' running mates prepare for key debate in Taiwan
Kuomintang (KMT) vice-presidential candidate Wang Ju-hsuan

TAIPEI, Taiwan - With the vice-presidential debate date set for Dec. 26, the running mates from the ruling and opposition parties on Saturday weighed in on preparation work before the verbal duel.

KMT's Wang Will Need to Set New Tone

Kuomintang (KMT) vice-presidential candidate Wang Ju-hsuan, who spent part of her day rock climbing in Yilan County, said that she would begin her preparation for the debate on Dec. 20. Wang, a lawyer turned social activist who later became labour minister in President Ma's cabinet, has more political experience than her major rival in the debate, Chen Chien-jen, from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

Seen as a wildcard choice to complement the expertise in finance of KMT presidential candidate Eric Chu, Wang's nomination has been met by dogged attempts to link her to a series of property investments tied to military-built housing. While Wang has filed a suit against DPP lawmakers who accuse her of property speculation and donated her earnings to charitable organisations, the housing issue could remain her Achilles heel in the debate, as it remains to be seen whether she can refocus attention on bread and butter issues. Even if she manages to do that, her opponents will likely attack her political record as the head of the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) and the prevalence of so-called 22K jobs (occupations with monthly salaries of approximately NT$22,000 [S$994]) after Ma came to power.

Chen in Bid to Secure Undecided Voters for DPP

The DPP vice-presidential candidate Chen, meanwhile, is reportedly spending two to three hours a day in preparation for next Saturday's debate. Chen, who resigned his position as vice president of Academia Sinica - arguably the nation's most prestigious research institution - is an epidemiologist by training. His soft-spoken style and careful manner of speaking while brandishing his professional image as a non-traditional politician, may be a double-edged sword in the verbal arena in a face-off with either Wang or People First Party (PFP) vice-presidential candidate Hsu Hsin-ying.

DPP campaign officials say that Chen is up to the task despite the tight time schedule, and his excellent memory has proven to be a boon in brushing up on current policies. While Wang may have better oratory skills, attempts to blemish his image on allegations of plagiarism on academic work have not found traction, giving him an advantage before entering the contest.

Hsu's Rare Opportunity to Put PFP Bid on Equal Footing

Finally, PFP Chairman James Soong's running mate Hsu, the chairwoman of the newly formed Minkuotang, has the advantage of having no political controversies that could weigh down the fortunes of the current third place contenders. Hsu, a scientist by training, is also a former KMT lawmaker who received the most votes island-wide in the 2012 local elections. As the youngest of all three running mates at 43, she has no real political debate experience and is reportedly receiving pointers from veteran PFP heavyweight Lee Hong-yuan, also a former interior minister.

Her performance will give the PFP ticket a rare opportunity to take the national stage with the two larger parties, paving the way for a performance by veteran statesman and orator Soong one day later in the first presidential debate.

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