The field in the race to be Taiwan’s next president has narrowed from three to two, and is now a contest between arch-rivals the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and the opposition Kuomintang party in January.

Foxconn chief Terry Gou’s 11th-hour decision on Monday evening to bow out of Taiwan’s 2020 presidential race, ahead of the candidate registration deadline on Tuesday evening, was said to be because of the lack of a viable running mate.

Gou, Taiwan’s richest businessman whose conglomerate assembles most of Apple’s products on the mainland, had to drop his bid as an independent since he was unable to poach Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je to his side as a vice-presidential candidate, after the tycoon’s falling out with the bigwigs of the KMT, of which he used to be a member.

Gou said he was dismayed by the KMT’s “reactionary politics,” in particular the elusive process during the primary to field Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu to contend for the island’s top office. Gou quit the KMT last week despite the party’s efforts to retain him.

Before announcing his retreat, Gou reportedly met with Ko for an hour on Monday, but still failed to whip the latter into action. Gou had thought that his deep pockets could form a synergy with Ko’s strong political base in Taipei and northern Taiwan to help his own bid.

Gou, left, wanted Ko to be his running mate. Photo: Facebook

However, surveys by Gou’s camp showed he would trail the DPP’s Tsai Ing-wen by a significant margin, as the incumbent leader takes all the credit for Taiwan’s strengthened ties with the US since she came to power.

For Ko’s part, he told reporters he would endorse Gou’s bid should he decide to run, because compared with Tsai and the KMT’s Han, Gou had all the makings of a good leader and could apply his acumen and experience in running his business empire to the running of the island and rekindle its economy and ties with the mainland.

Taiwan’s Apple Daily reported on Tuesday that Ko had also ruled out his own tilt at the presidency, citing “inadequate time” to launch a campaign, and would instead back candidates from his newly-established Taiwan People’s Party to contest the Legislative Yuan election, which would be held concurrently with the presidential race in early January.

“I would have already kicked-started my own bid only if Gou decided to pull out in June or July, not this late, and I am as shocked as you are [by Gou’s last-minute exit],” said Ko, who became mayor of the capital city after a landslide win in the 2014 mayoral election and won a second term at the end of last year.

Ko repeatedly assured his supporters in Taipei that he would finish his current tenure first before considering future careers, and that he was engulfed in politics as both Tsai and Han saw him as a potential, disruptive rival who may upset their strategies.

Incumbent leader Tsai Ing-wen will face off against the KMT’s Han Kuo-yu in January’s election. Photos: AFP/Central News Agency

Now that Gou and Ko are out of the game, both Tsai and Han are keen to woo “swaying voters” who have yet to decide who to support, with Tsai consolidating her lead over her Beijing-friendly rival thanks to Beijing’s military threats and the worsening situation in Hong Kong.

But there are also rumors that former Vice-President Annette Lu, who served as Chen Shui-bian’s deputy between 2000 and 2008 and was known for her pro-independence stance, was considering throwing her hat into the ring as an independent.

Taiwan’s Central Election Commission will announce a list of prospective independent candidates as soon as Wednesday, and under the Taiwanese law, presidential candidates without any party affiliations must pay a deposit of NT$1 million (US$32,278) and collect and submit 280,000 valid signatures of registered voters by November 2 for their candidacy.