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Election 2004

Taiwan Communiqué No. 104, March 2003

Presidential elections coming up in 2004

"Green camp" versus "Blue camp"

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Lien Chan - James Soong cooperation: "The Lunar New Year is over guys. Stop fighting for the lead role."

In January and February 2003, the two opposing political camps in Taiwan made their first moves in preparation for the March 2004 presidential elections in Taiwan. In January, President Chen shifted some of his key aides, ensuring that he would have a good "fighting machine" for the upcoming elections, hoping for a re-election. A key move was the appointment of Mr. Lee Ying-yuan as deputy secretary-general of the DPP. Although Mr. Lee lost the mayoral race against KMT Taipei mayor Ma Ying-jeou, he is considered one of the DPP's strongest campaigners.

Another move was that of current National Security Council (NSC) Secretary-General Chiou I-jen to the position of Presidential Office secretary-general. Mr. Chiou is regarded as the DPP's top strategist and a seasoned politician with experience in important posts in government and the party.

In mid-February, the "blue camp" (the KMT and PFP opposition parties) made its major move, when the PFP's James Soong agreed to play second fiddle to the KMT's Lien Chan and serve as Mr. Lien's vice-presidential candidate. Mr. Soong is generally considered a much stronger candidate than Mr. Lien: he won 36.8% of the vote in the 2000 presidential elections, against a mere 23.1% for Mr. Lien. The general expectation is thus that this coalition will be fraught with internal bickering and will not last. On the following pages is a commentary from the Taipei Times.

Thanks for the nuts, but ... the bolts?

This editorial first appeared in the Taipei Times on 16 February 2003. Reprinted with permission.

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KMT-PFP: "We have decided to establish a party alliance."

The on-again-off-again relationship between KMT Chairman Lien Chan and PFP Chairman James Soong hit a new milestone when they declared the establishment of a KMT-PFP alliance on Valentine's Day. This is a festive event for the KMT, because the pan-blue has successfully integrated and the two chairmen are at the altar. A victory in 2004 seems so close. The odd couple are now veritable love birds. Will they live happily ever after?

It is too early for the pan-blue alliance to toast champagne. Things are not as simple as a date on Valentine's Day. First, the Public Officials Election and Recall Law does not provide a legal basis for cross-party nomination. So, unless the two parties actually merge, the Central Election Committee can not allow either party to nominate Lien and Soong. While the Ministry of the Interior may have plans to allow cross-party nomination, the Legislative Yuan has not completed enactment of the relevant law. Therefore, Lien and Soong can cohabit, but they can not run with a dual-party ticket.

Even if they want to officially tie the knot, they will first have to jump over a big hurdle. Cohabitation is enough to bring problems. Soong garnered a substantial number of votes in the 2000 presidential election. Together with the votes Lien received, their number of votes exceeded those of President Chen Shui-bian by about 2 million votes. But, politics is not a matter of one plus one equals two. The attitude and popular will of the voters at any given time and in response to any given mix of candidates are what count.

In these past few years, the political charisma of Soong has nose-dived. Suspicions about his political and moral virtues brought on by the Chung-hsing financial bill scandal remain. Soong's kneeling act before last year's mayoral election and the implication of several PFP Kaohsiung city councilmen in a vote-buying scandal have besmirched Soong's reputation. The KMT may be happy now, but it will soon discover Soong to be a shrewd who relishes political struggle and power grabbing. Lien will be marginalized in the election. The painful battle between the two parties is just beginning.

Soong gave a long speech on the eve of the announcement of the alliance, supposedly giving his views about the current state of affairs in Taiwan. He had no answers to give, only problems to pose. Soong's speech may have spoken the mind of some, but people do not necessarily vote based on sentiment. They need answers. "Thanks for the nuts, but where are the bolts?" they ask.

There is no denying that Chen's performance during the past three years of his presidency has been less than praiseworthy. But, the current problems are mostly remnants of the KMT era. The voters handed power to the DPP because they were dissatisfied with the slow pace of reform by the KMT. Can all these problems be solved with another change of ruling party? The KMT-PFP alliance must pitch more substantial proposals to the public and demonstrate greater determination to reform in order to convince the voters to cast their votes for them. Paying lip service to anti-government sentiment won't win them any votes.

The merging and split of parties and the rise and fall of political figures are all superficial aspects of politics. The essence of politics is to safeguard the welfare of the public. Taiwan's politicians and media waste too much energy on these superficial aspects. They are both out of focus and in dereliction of their duties. Let it be known to all interested in running for the presidency — reforms and the economy are what matter to the voters.

Copyright © 2003 Taiwan Communiqué

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