‘Taiwan’s Mandela’ Shih Ming-teh drops bid for presidency

Shih Ming-tehA veteran Taiwanese human rights advocate said Tuesday he is unlikely to gather enough signatures for his presidential campaign and is dropping out of a race widely expected to see the island elect its first female leader.

Shih Ming-teh, who had intended to run as a independent candidate in the January vote, required at least 300,000 signatures from members of the public to become an official contender.

“In my life I’ve escaped (the) death penalty three times and survived liver cancer three times,” Shih wrote in a statement Tuesday on his Facebook page. “But facing this 300,000 threshold, I tried my best.”

He had called for an end to the political polarisation of the island’s two main parties — the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) and its main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

“Reconciliation is the only way out for Taiwan,” he wrote in the post. “Don’t let internal conflict destroy Taiwan.”

Shih is called “Taiwan’s Mandela” by the local media for his imprisonment by the KMT when it ruled the island under martial law for campaigning against state violence. More recently he has argued for gay rights and criticised mainland China’s human rights record.

That leaves three main candidates, with the focus on the two women pitted against each other in the competition — KMT’s Hung Hsiao-chu and DPP’s Tsai Ing-wen.

Tsai is widely expected to win the elections at a time when public support for the ruling KMT wanes amid fears of increased mainland Chinese influence on Taiwan.

Taiwan split from mainland China in 1949 after a civil war, but has never formally declared independence. Beijing still sees the island as part of its territory awaiting reunification.

The third candidate is James Soong of the People First Party, who is making his third bid for the presidency.

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