On 2 December 1995, the people of Taiwan will go to the polls for the
elections for 164 seats in the Legislative Yuan. The results will be closely
watched, both in Taiwan as well as overseas, because it will be a major
indicator of the future political direction of the island: will the people
continue to support the "status quo" policies of President Lee
Teng-hui's Kuomintang, or will they shift further in the direction of the
DPP-party ? In the previous (1992) Legislative Yuan elections, the DPP grew to
31 percent of the votes (52 seats) -- while the Kuomintang dropped from a level
of near 80 percent in the 1980s to approximately 60 percent (96 seats). During
more recent elections for local offices (in November 1993 and December 1994),
the DPP increased its share of the votes to some 40 percent, while the
Kuomintang was barely able to remain above 50 percent.
The Kuomintang paddling furiously in order to avoid losing
its absolute majority in the Legislative Yuan
The main question for the upcoming elections is thus, whether the Kuomintang will lose its absolute majority and drop below 50 percent, and whether the DPP can achieve an increase to some 40 percent. The election will also be a precursor for the upcoming presidential election in March 1996: a significant shift in the direction of the DPP will increase the likelyhood of a neck and neck race between President Lee Teng-hui and the DPP's candidate, Professor Peng Ming-min (see article on next pages).
It is uncertain yet how the balance between the Kuomintang and the DPP will be affected by the smaller parties and by the non-affiliated candidates: in the 1992 elections, some 14 percent of the votes went to candidates, which ran on an independent ticket, and did not associate themselves with either the KMT or the DPP. Forteen of these candidates were elected, constituting 8.7 percent of the seats.
In the meantime, there has also been the split-off of the pro-unificationist New Party from the Kuomintang. This group consists mainly of Chinese mainlanders, and the support it gets on the island is therefore limited, but their influence is considerable, because the New Party has several outspoken members in the Legislative Yuan, and has shown itself adept at getting the attention from the media.
A total of 122 seats are open for election in the regular districts, with 90 seats for Taiwan, 18 for Taipei and 12 for Kaohsiung, and two for Kinmen and Matsu. Of the remaining 42 seats, 30 are "at large" (to be allocated to the parties on the basis of the results in the regular districts), six set aside for overseas candidates, and six for aboriginal candidates. The DPP has nominated a total of 70 candidates and hopes that at least 60 of these will be elected, an increase from the current level of 52 seats. Below we report on some of the interesting races in different parts of Taiwan.
In Taipei, the DPP has a slate of both old and new members: in Taipei South, the four DPP candidates, incumbent legislators Shen Fu-hsiung, Mrs. Yeh Chu-lan, and Mr. Yen Chin-fu, who are running for reelection, have agreed with the fourth candidate, Mr. Huang Tien-fu, to pool their resources together and run a joint election campaign. The four will appear together in all campaign rallies. They ask voters to distribute their votes evenly among the four. If this experiment works, then hopefully the four candidates will be all elected. In Taipei North, the DPP nominated five candidates, including the former chairman of DPP, Mr. Chiang Peng-chien. Of the five candidates, three are newcomers. In Chia-yi city, DPP legislator Chai Trong-rong's reelection is facing an uphill battle, because his opponent, chairman of Mainland Affairs Council Mr. Vincent Siew, a native of Chiayi city, is a popular politician. Mr. Siew represented President Lee in two previous APEC meetings.
In Tainan city, the DPP nominated Dr. George Chang, the former chairman of World United Formosans for Independence (WUFI), and Mr. Shih Ming-teh, the present chairman of DPP. Incumbent DPP legislator Hsu Tien-tsai, was not nominated by the DPP because he lost in the primary. Mr. Hsu has declared that he would withdraw from the DPP and run as an independent. Two other candidates who were prominent in the overseas Taiwanese movement (respectively in the United States and Japan) are Professor Lee Ying-yuan, who returned to Taiwan in 1991, and is running in Taipei county, and Dr. Hsu Shih-kai, a former chairman of WUFI, who is running in Taichung City.
Dr. George Chang, whose campaign office opened in Tainan on 23 September 1995, was the subject of a number of attacks: first his office was broken into and vandalized. Unidentified individuals burned ghost paper money in front of his office to bring bad luck to his campaign. Then, on September 28, a fire broke out in the early morning, totally destroying the office. No one was injured, but all his campaign brochures, computers, equipment, furniture and name lists of supporters were destroyed. Mr. Chang suspects that political opponents had set the fire. In a press conference he said that he would not be intimidated and would rebuild his campaign headquarters and stay in the race.
Finally, on the offshore island of Penghu (the Pescadores), the DPP nominated Mr. Cheng Shao-liang, a Taiwanese-American computer engineer, who became a prominent artificial intelligence specialist while in the United States. He returned to Taiwan in 1993.
On 25 September 1995, the DPP announced in a press conference in Taipei that it nominated professor Peng Ming-min to be its presidential candidate for the March 1996 elections. Professor Peng had won a lengthly marathon primary campaign, in which some 300,000 people participated. The primary consisted of 49 public debates in 23 cities and townships in a span of nearly three months. Prof. Peng's opponent in the primary, Mr. Hsu Hsin-liang, the former chairman of DPP, pledged his full support to Prof. Peng's presidential campaign.
Prof. Peng is a former professor of political science at National Taiwan University and a former political prisoner. He said that he accepted the presidential nomination as the greatest honor in his life. The path from political prisoner to presidential candidate was certainly a rocky one: In 1964 at the peak of his academic career, Prof. Peng was arrested and sentenced to eight years in prison for publishing a manifesto advocating Taiwan independence, a political taboo then. He was kept under house arrest by the Kuomintang authorities for nearly five years, but in 1970 he made a dramatic escape from the island and received political asylum in Sweden. He subsequently moved to the United States, and was active in the overseas Taiwanese democratic movement. After more than 20 years' exile, he returned to Taiwan in 1992, and joined the DPP in February of this year.
Professor Peng began his quest for the DPP presidential nomination without a power base. His campaign staff consisted mainly of university professors who did have limited experience in managing a political campaign. In contrast, his opponent Hsu Hsin-liang, the former county magistrate of Taoyuan, is an experienced politician whose staff are old-timers in political campaigns. However, professor Peng turned out to be highly popular among the supporters of DPP. His statesmanlike image and his pioneering role in challenging the Kuomintang at such an early stage appealed to the Taiwanese voters who still have memories of his arrest and imprisonment in the late 1960s. In the end, Prof. Peng won with 177,477 votes (57.8%) against Hsu's 129,816 votes (42.2%).
DPP Presidential and Vice-presidential candidates
Peng Ming-min (R) and Hsieh Chang-t'ing (L)
The day after Prof. Peng became DPP's presidential candidate, he nominated DPP legislator Hsieh Chang-ting to be his running mate. Peng said that he nominated Hsieh for his youth, intellect, wit and political experience. Mr. Hsieh was a defense lawyer for the "Kaohsiung Eight" at the 1980 trial following the Kaohsiung incident of 1979. He also served in the Taipei City Council and the Legislative Yuan. He is a popular speaker known for his eloquence, humor and quick wit. He thus complements Prof. Peng in many respects.
At the end of September 1995, the DPP unveiled its election platform for the year-end legislative election and the March 1996 presidential election, in a celebration marking the ninth anniversary of the founding of the party. The 60,000-word platform entitled"give Taiwan a chance" is a DPP contract with the people of Taiwan. It outlines DPP's policy proposals on major topics which the party considers important for the island's future, including national identity, defense and security, foreign policy, Taiwan's international status, political and economic reforms and social welfare.
On the sovereignty issue, the DPP maintains that Taiwan is an independent sovereign state, and opposes unification with mainland China. The sovereignty plank also calls for a redefinition of the national territory to reflect the present reality (the national territory to be defined as Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu), and refutes the claims that Taiwan is a part of China. Furthermore, it reiterates that Taiwan submits its application to join the United Nations under the name "Taiwan."
The defense plank proposes to strengthen Taiwan's ability to protect itself by increasing its defense capabilities, and by promoting cooperation with other South-East Asian nations in safeguarding regional security. The plank also argues for greater transparency in the affairs of the military, privatization of defense industries, and effective and reasonable management of the armed forces.
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