TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou resigned Wednesday as chairman of the Beijing-friendly ruling Nationalists after surprisingly harsh local election losses, a signal the party plans to regroup for a tough 2016 presidential race and may shelve dialogue with China.
Ma tendered his resignation at a meeting of the party's Central Standing Committee, which was expected to pick Taiwan Vice President Wu Den-yih as interim chair. Ma will remain Taiwan's president until 2016, when he must leave office after eight years due to term limits.
"These election results remind us to grasp strength and listen with humility," Ma said, bowing for 10 seconds in apology as he resigned.
"I want to apologize to all of our supporters. I am ashamed. I have disappointed everyone. I must deeply, personally examine myself. There is no shirking of acceptance of the highest responsibility for the election losses."
The Nationalists, also known as the KMT, lost nine seats Saturday, including their stronghold, the capital city Taipei, after opinion polls had forecast they would drop just three.
Their chief rival, the Democratic Progressive Party, won seven and independents took two. The pro-independence DPP wants dialogue with China but rejects Beijing's demand that it acknowledge the two sides are a single country.
Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949 and Beijing is determined to assert control over the island by force if need be.
Concerns over increasingly close trade links with Beijing were considered a significant factor in the party's defeat.
The 21 trade, transit and investment agreements with China spearheaded by Ma's government have been credited with boosting parts of Taiwan's export-led economy, but have met increasing resistance at home.
The election losses and Ma's resignation throw into question a final suite of deals with China now in the pipeline, including an agreement to cut import tariffs on thousands of goods and the establishment of consular-style offices.
Ma now has even less influence over the party's often contrarian legislators, who fear a public backlash against the proposed China deals that were stymied by student protesters in March would further dim the Nationalists' hopes in 2016.
In coming days, Ma is expected to appoint a new premier and ministers following the Cabinet's resignation after the election.
In the meantime, China is expected to stick to its approach of recent years of avoiding overtly trying to influence Taiwan's electoral politics. Beijing is aware that it can only hurt the Nationalists' prospects by appearing too close to them, said Sean King, senior vice president with the consultancy Park Strategies in New York and Taipei.
The Chinese Cabinet's Taiwan Affairs Office issued a statement noting Ma's intention to resign and saying greater interaction between the sides has brought "tangible benefits" to both.