In March 1996, the people of Taiwan will go to the polls to elect their president for the first time in history. This is a major political reform in Taiwan's democratization movement following the lifting of martial law in 1987 and the overall re-elections of the Legislative Yuan in 1992. For the first time the opposition DPP can compete openly in the race for the presidency and it opens a window of opportunity for the DPP to move towards gaining a majority in elections on the island.
Until 1990, the president of Taiwan was appointed by the National Assembly, which mainly consisted of aging KMT members elected in mainland China in 1947. Under pressure from the opposition DPP and public opinion the KMT authorities finally relented and amended the Constitution a year ago to allow direct presidential election to take place in March 1996. Although the presidential election is still nearly a year away, intense competition has begun among leading DPP party candidates, who seek the party nomination.
The first to declare his presidential ambition was Mr. Hsu Hsin-liang, the former chairman of DPP. Others who have made public their desire to seek party nomination are Prof. Peng Ming-min, the former chairman of the department of Political Science at National Taiwan University, who returned from exile in the United States two years ago, Mr. You Ching, the current magistrate of Taipei County, and Mr. Lin Yi-hsiung, a former political prisoner and a former member of the Provincial Assembly.
The four contenders have crisscrossed the island paying visits to local party offices and holding seminars and public discussions in order to gain name recognition and seek financial support before the party primary on June 11, 1995. Below we give a brief introduction on each contender.
A former chairman of the DPP, he returned to Taiwan in 1990 after a decade of exile in the United States. He was elected Chairman of DPP in 1992 with the support of the Formosa faction. A year later he resigned the chairmanship after the DPP suffered a setback in the local elections of city mayors and county magistrates. In 1978, Mr. Hsu made headlines when he won the election of county commissioner of Taoyuan as a KMT rebel.
Before Mr. Hsu could serve out his term he was suspended of his job after participating in a demonstration to protest the arrest and imprisonment of Mr. Yu Teng-fa, the former county commissioner of Kaohsiung, on trumped-up charges. Mr. Hsu went into exile in the United States in the summer of 1979. His repeated attempts to return to Taiwan were thwarted by KMT until 1990, when he was caught as a stowaway in a fishing boat near Kaohsiung harbor. He served a short prison sentence for illegal entry to Taiwan. After his release from prison, he was elected chairman of DPP.
According to analysts, Mr. Hsu has a good chance to win the first stage of the party primary with the support of Formosa faction, which controls the largest number of votes from party delegates and elected officials. In March 1995, DPP's party congress voted to adopt a two-stage primary system to nominate presidential candidate. In the first stage, party officials and delegates cast their votes to select two winners, who then compete in the second stage in nation-wide polls by the public.
Prof. Peng Ming-min, born in 1923, was the former chairman of the department of political science of National Taiwan University before he was arrested in 1964 for drafting a manifesto calling for a new democratic constitution and Taiwan independence. In 1970 while under surveillance he eluded the secret police and escaped abroad.
He returned to Taiwan in 1992 after two decades of exile in the United States. Prof. Peng's has significant support in the academic community. Many of his former students are now prominent university professors. He has gained some name recognition from speaking in political rallies and frequent press interviews. Prof. Peng appeared to be a front runner in Taipei and Kaohsiung among DPP members according to some unofficial opinion polls.
Many supporters pointed out that he could be the most eloquent spokesman for Taiwan in the international arena because of his knowledge and experience in international affairs and his fluency in both the Japanese and English languages. Prof. Peng's weakness is that he does not belong to any faction in the DPP. The lack of factional support could be a problem in the first stage of the primary when he might not be able to gain enough votes to move on to the second stage of the primary.
Dr. You Ching, who is presently serving his second term as the Taipei County Magistrate, has the most wide-ranging administrative experience through a successful career as an elected official.
In 1980 shortly after he returned from Germany where he received a doctorate in Law from Heidelberg University, he joined a team of lawyers in defending the "Kaohsiung Eight", in the trial of major opposition leaders who were arrested following the December 1979 Kaohsiung Incident. He then embarked on a political career by running successfully for the Control Yuan and the Legislative Yuan before he was elected commissioner of Taipei County.
Mr. Lin Yi-hsiung is the fourth Democratic Progressive Party member to join the race for the presidency. Mr. Lin, a lawyer by training, was a former member of the Provincial Assembly. His life took a tragic turn in the aftermath of the Kaohsiung Incident of 1979 when he was in prison, his mother and twin daughters were found murdered in his home in downtown Taipei on February 28, 1980 while his house was under surveillance by the secret police. A third daughter was injured severely from knife stabbings but survived. The authorities never solved the murder.
Mr. Lin was sentenced to 12 years in prison but was released after four and half years. He has come to symbolize moral fortitude because of his courage and integrity in the face of adversity. Mr. Lin has promised that he would never run a negative campaign. One of the reasons Mr. Lin is in the race is that he wants to focus the presidential campaign on major issues such as Taiwan's national identity, relations with China and Taiwan's U.N. membership and hopefully to shape a consensus on these issues.
On the KMT-side, President Lee has not ruled out the possibility of running for re-election. It is most likely that President Lee and Premier Lien will be on the KMT ticket. Lee declared he would not run for a second term during an inaugural speech in 1990, however, recently he said it was "up to the people" to decide whether he should run again.
Although Lee has yet to announce his candidacy, many of his opponents, mainly from a right-wing faction of the KMT, have launched an anti-Lee campaign to prevent him from seeking another term. However, Lee has high popularity rating in opinion polls and the dominant position he enjoys in both the party and the government.
Within the KMT, only one other contender has made public his determination to run in the election: Vice Chairman Lin Yang-kang, who is reportedly toying with the idea of running as an independent candidate or to align himself with the New China Party, a right-wing extremist group, mainly made up of Chinese mainlanders, which broke away from the Kuomintang two years ago, and which strongly argues for unification with mainland China.
Back to: Table of Contents
Copyright © 1995 Taiwan Communiqué