Associated Press

Taiwan's main rival parties split wins in mayoral elections

Saturday December 9, 2006

By Stephan Grauwels

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The candidate of Taiwan's ruling party narrowly won a crucial mayoral election in southern Kaohsiung city Saturday, the Central Election Commission said, while the opposition candidate won comfortably in the capital of Taipei.

Chen Chu of the Democratic Progressive Party bested Nationalist Party candidate Huang Jun-ying by 1,120 votes out of almost 800,000 cast in Kaohsiung, in a result likely to boost the position of the DPP's corruption tainted president, Chen Shui-bian.

The two mayoral elections had been seen by many as a referendum on Chen's rule.

In Taipei the Nationalists' Hau Lung-bin beat the DPP's Frank Hsieh by about 13 percentage points with all the votes counted.

Chen Chu's victory in Kaohsiung -- albeit by the narrowest of margins -- seems likely to take pressure off of the president, who has been on the defensive for more than six months over allegations his family and inner circle benefited financially from their proximity to him. The two Chens are not related.

On Nov. 3, prosecutors indicted Chen's wife and three former aides on charges of embezzling 14.8 million New Taiwan dollars (US$450,000; euro350,000) from a special fund under presidential control. They said Chen could face the same charges when his presidential immunity from prosecution lapses after his term ends.

Allegations of vote buying marred the election in Kaohsiung, long a DPP stronghold. The DPP claimed Huang's campaign workers handed envelopes containing NT$1,000 (US$31; euro23) to people on a bus returning from his final election rally late Friday. The Nationalists denied the charges.

There was no immediate indication from the Nationalist camp on whether the party planned to contest the Kaohsiung results. In Taiwan, there is no automatic procedure for recounts in close elections.

Huang addressed supporters after the results were announced without calling for a recount, though his campaign advisers said they would demand one on Monday.

Voting took place without major problems in Taipei, where polls had shown Hau as a strong favorite.

Hsieh's relatively robust showing -- he garnered almost 41 percent of the vote, far higher than the DPP's expectations -- is likely to put him in a good position to contest the party's 2008 presidential nomination.

Other candidates include Premier Su Tseng-chang, party chairman Yu Shyi-kun and Vice president Annette Lu.

While the corruption allegations against Chen Shui-bian played a major part in both the Taipei and Kaohsiung campaigns, candidates from the opposing parties also emphasized their positions on Taiwan's relations with mainland China.

Hau and Huang support expanded Taiwanese trade ties with Beijing, reflecting the Nationalists' platform in favor of eventual unification with the communist colossus.

By contrast Chen Chu and Hsieh support strengthening Taiwan's de facto independence and play down the importance of expanded trade with the mainland.