TAIPEI, Taiwan - Huang Min-hui, the Kuomintang's (KMT) interim chairwoman, on Saturday dismissed media talk about the upcoming party chief election being a "war between two women" or a clash between the pro-unification and pro-Taiwan camps.
Huang, who is in a race with Hung Hsiu-chu for the party's top post, said democracy in Taiwan is mature enough that gender is no longer an issue.
She noted that President-elect Tsai Ing-wen is a woman and that the voters who elected Huang mayor of Chiayi in the past chose her not because of her gender, but because of her ability.
She said she hopes to unite Taiwan if elected chairwoman of her party. Speaking at an event in Chiayi City, she said she would want to play the role of a "barrel hoop" binding people together in unity.
She also stressed that the KMT is a centrist party of multiple values and freedom from factional problems.
Meanwhile in Taipei, Hung, making her last appearance as a lawmaker on the Legislature's premises, said she welcomes the challenge from Huang in the election.
The legislative deputy speaker, whose term ends today, dismissed speculation that Huang's campaign seeks to prevent her from taking the helm of the party and directing it toward a "fundamentalist right-wing pro-unification ideology."
Hung said she cares little about the "characterization" of the upcoming election as a clash of ideologies, as the most important thing is that the candidates must be allowed to express their ideas clearly and openly, giving voters sufficient information to make their decisions.
Huang was replaced by then-KMT Chairman Eric Chu as the party's presidential candidate last year after her fervent pro-unification stance estranged her from a public that mostly supports Taiwan's status quo situation.
But Chu could not save the KMT campaign and stepped down as its chairman after losing in the Jan. 16 elections. Huang has been appointed interim party chairwoman until a new chief is elected in March.
Hung stands a good chance of winning the March vote because of strong support from the party wing representing military servicemen and their dependents, who are generally pro-unification, observers said.
Huang hopes to defeat Hung and prevent the KMT from becoming a fundamentalist pro-unification party in the vein of the New Party, alienating it from the public, the observers said.
The New Party, a KMT splinter group, has seen its popularity wane fast in recent years, having won none of the seats up for grabs in the just-concluded legislative elections.
But Hung dismissed worries about the KMT becoming another New Party.
She stressed that the chief to be elected in March will be able do very little because the term will only last until July 2017, but the burden is tremendous.
In Taichung, Eric Chu said the March election should not be loaded with "unnecessary ideologies" and "marred by confrontations." He said he believes party members will make a wise decision.
Chu was speaking at the KMT's office in the central city, where he and his former presidential running mate, Huang Ju-hsuan, met party members to thank them for their support.