William Lai (賴清德) has entered the race to become Taiwan’s next president.

The former premier said on Monday he will sign up for the upcoming Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential primary, which begins this week.

Lai served as premier in the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) from Sept. 8, 2017 until Jan. 14, 2019, when he stepped down after the DPP suffered a series of brutal defeats to the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) in last November’s regional elections.


Credit: Reuters / TPG

Tsai Ing-wen (L) announces the appointment of Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌, R) as Premier, replacing William Lai (2nd R).

Now, Lai is set to challenge his former boss for the presidency. Tsai announced last month in an interview with CNN that she would seek a second term as President, saying she wanted to “complete” her vision for Taiwan.

Lai told CNA on Monday he wants to take on the responsibility of leading Taiwan.

The news comes as a surprise, but it follows rumblings of speculation over Lai’s presidential ambitions sparked after a January challenge to Tsai’s position from within the DPP by a “deep-Green” faction loyal to Lai. Voices within the DPP have accused Tsai of maintaining the cross-Strait “status quo” rather than making a stronger push for independence.

In the past, Lai has called himself “a political worker for Taiwanese independence,” but has maintained that Taiwan is already a sovereign, independent nation and does not need to formally declare independence.

Tsai has suffered dismal approval ratings which dropped to historic lows following November’s disastrous elections. Her popularity has seen a recent spike when she soundly rejected Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s proposal of a “one country, two systems” framework for Taiwan, which he made during a Jan. 2 speech.

Her administration has been criticized by voters for passing unpopular pension reforms and failing to substantially raise the minimum wage.

Lai served as premier during pension deliberations, which observers have pinpointed as a major factor to the DPP’s heavy November election losses.

Lai also served as mayor of Tainan from 2010 to 2017 before becoming premier to replace the departing Lin Chuan (林全).

Early polls have presumptive DPP candidates trailing hopefuls from the KMT. Former New Taipei Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫) and KMT legislator Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) have both announced their intention to enter the presidential race.

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