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Important events in Taiwan's history

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Year 2000 Presidential Elections

On 18 March 2000, Taiwan held its second direct presidential elections. Democratic Progressive Party candidate Chen Shui-bian won a stunning victory, making it the first time in Taiwan's history that an opposition party has won over the entrenched Kuomintang. Mr. Chen won 39.3 percent of the vote, independent candidate James Soong 36.8 percent, while KMT candidate Lien Chan came in a distant third with 23.1 percent of the vote.

The March 2000 elections are thus a "coming-of-age" of democracy in Taiwan. The present President, Lee Teng-hui, was elected in 1996 against the background of threatening Chinese missile firings and military exercises. Prior to 1996, the presidential election was determined in a closely-manipulated process by the KMT-controlled National Assembly.

Below, we take a closer look at each candidate.

Real-time election results on 18 March 2000

Chen Shui-bian, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)
Endorsement by the Taiwanese Association of America
Analysis of the DPP by Prof. Shelley Rigger Chen Shui-bian

Mr. Chen has for many years been the rising star of the democratic opposition movement. He first became known in the early 1980s as a member of the team of defense lawyers which defended the eight major opposition leaders arrested and imprisoned after the December 1979 Kaohsiung Incident . The group of defendants and their lawyers subsequently became the core of the democratic opposition movement: one of the defendants, Ms. Lü Hsiu-lien (see below) is now his vice-presidential running mate.

In the mid-1980s, Mr. Chen was elected as a member of the Taipei City Council and became known as an spirited critic of corruption and mismanagement in City Hall. In November 1985, Mr. Chen and his wife, Wu Shu-chen, paid a high price for their political beliefs: during a campaign trip to Tainan county, Mrs. Chen was run over by a farm vehicle and became paralyzed from the waist down. The driver was never charged.

In the mid-1980s, Mr. Chen was also active in the budding "tangwai magazine" movement: a group of publications associated with the democratic opposition. These publications were banned and confiscated frequently by the ruling KMT authorities. Mr. Chen served eight months in prison on a "libel" conviction for a magazine for which he served as legal counsel.

From 1989 through 1994 he served in the Legislative Yuan, and increased his profile as a hard-hitting opponent of corruption and inefficiency. In 1994 he ran, and won, in the first-ever elections for the position of Taipei mayor. Until then, the position had been an appointive post, traditionally given to KMT stalwarts.

During his term as Taipei mayor he took significant steps to improve traffic in Taipei, and cracked down on the city's sex industry. He was highly popular, and gained widespread praise for his achievements. However, he lost his re-election bid in 1998 by a slight margin, when the Kuomintang -- which had been split in 1994 -- united its money-machine behind KMT candidate Ma Ying-jeou.

In the run-up to the present elections, Mr. Chen has focused on both local politics as well as international policies: he has attacked the "black-gold" connection, and at the same time has issued a number of White Papers, setting out the DPP's policies, which would be the government's policies if he is elected on March 18th 2000.

Annet Lu

On 10 December 1999, Mr. Chen announced in Taipei that his running mate in the Presidential elections would be Ms. Annette Lü Hsiu-lien, who presently serves as County Magistrate for Taoyuan County, just south of Taipei. Taoyuan County is a heavily industrialized area, and is the second most populated county in Taiwan with 1.2 million people.

Ms. Lü became well-known in Taiwan in the late 1970s as a member of the budding democratic opposition and as a leading woman's rights advocate. She gave a major speech at the now well-known Kaohsiung Incident in December 1979 and was subsequently arrested and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment.

She was adopted by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience, and was released on medical bail on 28 March 1985, after more than 5 years imprisonment. After her release she spent some time in the United States at Harvard University -- where she had been a visiting scholar in the mid-1970s. She has a degree in comparative law from the University of Illinois.

In 1992 she returned to Taiwan to became active again in the democratic opposition of the DPP, and ran successfully for a seat in the Legislative Yuan in December 1992. She became one of the driving forces behind the initiative to get Taiwan into the United Nations. In March 1997, Ms. Lü was elected Taoyuan County Magistrate in a by-election.

Lien Chan: making Al Gore look exciting

Lien Chan

Mr. Lien Chan was selected as the Kuomintang's presidential candidate in a KMT Party Congress in August 1999. He chose Prime Minister Vincent Siew as his running mate. Both men are able technocrats, and Mr. Siew has a solid background in economics.

The problem with Mr. Lien Chan is that he is a dour politician. The standard joke in Taiwan is that Mr. Lien "…makes US Presidential candidate Al Gore look exciting."

Another problem with Mr. Lien is that he is exceedingly wealthy. For many in Taiwan this raises the question how his wealth was obtained. While there are no direct indications that Mr. Lien's wealth was achieved in other than legitimate business practices, there is a long history of links between the KMT's wealth -- "gold" in Taiwan's terminology -- and the not insignificant underworld of gangs and triads -- "black" in Taiwan's political spectrum.

The opposition DPP has long criticized the linkage between "black" and "gold." A number of well-known figures in the underworld were able to "buy themselves clean" by running for office and even being elected to positions such as the Legislative Yuan and County Magistrate. The Kuomintang has traditionally condoned such activities and has done very little to stem the influence of the underworld and money in politics.

Mr. Lien was able to bolster his position recently, when he came out with a strong position on defense against China, suggesting that Taiwan should develop long-range missiles which could be used to retaliate against China in case of an attack against the island by the PLA.

Mr. Lien Chan also has the formidable KMT party machine behind him, and can count on the active campaigning of the charismatic President Lee Teng-hui. He is thus a strong candidate -- but at the time of this writing is running third in the opinion polls.

James Soong's financial scandal

James Soong

Until mid-December 1999, Mr. Soong was the front runner, scoring significantly ahead of his two rivals in the opinion polls. As governor of "Taiwan Province" from 1994 through 1998 he had been able to build up a wide network of supporters, enhancing his position and creating goodwill -- especially in the poorer central and southern counties of the island -- by generously dispensing funds for roads, streetlighting and other public infrastructure.

He also had a smooth public relations machine, drawing from the many New Party supporters working in the media. While the New Party did come up with its own candidate, it was public knowledge in Taiwan that the pro-unificationist mainlanders supported their favorite-son, Soong.

Mr. Soong had his fall-out with president Lee Teng-hui earlier in 1998-99, when President Lee decided to honor his agreement with the democratic opposition of the DPP to phase out the anachronistic "Provincial Government", which happened to be the power-base of Mr. Soong.

The matter came further to a head in August 1999, when the Kuomintang decided to support the dour vice-President Lien Chan as its candidate for the upcoming elections, sidelining the flamboyant Soong.

From August through December 1999, the situation looked rather grim for the Kuomintang: Soong surged ahead and stayed ahead in the opinion polls. Not that opinion polls are all that reliable in Taiwan: various polls show a difference in support for any of the major candidates of sometimes up to ten percentage points -- all within the same week. This lead to suspicions that some polling organizations have a hidden agenda -- in favor of Mr. Soong.

In mid-December 1999 the situation changed suddenly, when a Kuomintang legislator, Mr. Yang Chi-hsiung, disclosed that he knew of a multi-million dollar fund, stashed away in the bank accounts of Mr. Soong's son and sister-in-law.

After several days of various explanations, Mr. Soong finally came up with a story that President Lee had directed him to use this money, an amount of some NT$ 140 million (equivalent to some US$ 4.6 million) to help support the remaining relatives of former President Chiang Ching-kuo. President Lee immediately dismissed the story as "nonsense", while the remaining relatives of President Chiang said they had no knowledge of such support.

In the following days, further reports of fuzzy funds -- up to the amount of some US$ 36 million -- in the accounts of James Soong relatives surfaced.

On 27 December 1999, the United Daily News even reported that Mr. Soong's sister-in-law, Chen Pi-yun, had transferred a total of some US$ 6 million to two accounts in San Francisco. At several lengthy press conferences, Mr. Soong tried to talk himself out of the mess, prompting President Lee to call him a "lying thief." Peruse the Taipei Times for further information.