Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (centre left) poses for a group photo during a campaign event with grassroots supporters in Taipei on November 7. Photo: AFP / Chris Stowers

Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je has again rejected rumors of him receiving Beijing’s help in a bid to become the island’s top leader in the 2020 presidential election.

Ko said no one could envisage what might happen in two years’ time, but for now he will focus on the mayoral election to secure another four-year tenure to lead Taipei. Voters in the capital city head to the polling stations this Saturday.

Despite riding a popularity wave, Ko caused a stir in a recent interview in which he was quoted as saying that both sides of the Taiwan Strait belonged to “one family”.

Ko reportedly told journalists that people on the mainland had kept encouraging him to run for the island’s top job and that he also felt that the odds [of a win] may be quite good. However his critics and election rivals have attacked his ambivalent, inconsistent stance on China.

Earlier this week he said he expected speculation about him running for president, but added that he has not yet made a decision on whether or not to run.

“Not only people in the mainland, guests from overseas are also asking me about it, including those from Japan and the US,” Ko told the island’s Central News Agency.

Former Taipei mayors, including Li Teng-hui, Chen Shui-bian and Ma Ying-jeou have all become presidents of Taiwan in recent decades.

Asked if he would consider announcing that he would not contest the 2020 presidential race, Ko said: “I hate it when politicians in Taiwan are forced to make a promise hastily… just look at those [politicians] who once vowed to quit politics [after losing an election] but have gone back on their word and are still sticking around.”

Ko has established ties with mainland cadres during his term, including attending a forum on city cooperation in Shanghai shunned by the ruling, pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, which backed him in the previous mayoral election in 2014.

There has been talk that Beijing could be keen on Ko for his pragmatic approach to cross-strait ties, and his appeal to young voters as an independent politician.

This time both the DPP and Kuomintang have fielded mayoral candidates in a bid to oust Ko.

Meanwhile, newspapers in Taiwan report that members of Ko’s campaign team suspect that protesters facing Ko at several of his recent campaign events were recruited and paid for by Ko’s rivals.