Taiwan opposition rushes to register candidates after talks implode on live TV

TAIPEI (Reuters) -Taiwan’s opposition parties rushed to register their presidential candidates on Friday with hours to go before a deadline, after talks on a joint ticket collapsed in dramatic fashion on live television amid bitter arguments.

The Jan. 13 election is taking place as China, which views Taiwan as its own territory, steps up military and political pressure to force the island to accept its sovereignty claims.

The opposition Kuomintang (KMT) and much smaller Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), both campaigning to forge better ties with China, had agreed to work together against the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) but made no progress on plans for a united presidential ticket.

Late Thursday, the KMT walked out of last-ditch talks with the TPP held in front of reporters in a hotel conference room and shown live on television, after failing to reach agreement.

The talks were brokered by the billionaire founder of major Apple supplier Foxconn, Terry Gou, who is running as an independent candidate.

In one of the most dramatic moments, the KMT’s presidential candidate, Hou Yu-ih, read a private text message from TPP candidate Ko Wen-je in which Ko said Gou needed to “find a reason” to drop out of the presidential race.

Hou and Ko will on Friday morning go to the election commission to register their separate presidential runs, ahead of a 0930GMT registration deadline. It is unclear who they will announce as their running mates.

Gou, who has trailed far behind in the polls, has not said whether he will also register.

By contrast, a united DPP has been charging ahead in its election campaign, registering its presidential and vice presidential candidates on Tuesday.

The DPP’s Lai Ching-te, Taiwan’s vice president, has consistently led in the polls.

Speaking at a campaign event late Thursday, Lai talked about his team’s busy schedule, discussing policy with voters and the media, and poured scorn on the opposition’s disunity.

“Should we dare to hand over the business of running the country to these people?” Lai said. “Of course this is not OK.”

Taiwan’s stock market mostly brushed off the impact of the ongoing political drama, though travel-related plays dropped on concerns that relations with China would not improve and Chinese tourists would not return to Taiwan.

The tourism and hospitality sub-index was down more than 2% on early Friday trade. The benchmark index was up 0.1%.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Roger Tung; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Gerry Doyle)