Taiwan's presidential elections are scheduled for 23 March 1996. It will be the first time in the history that the people on the island will be able to cast a direct vote for their president. Until recently, the president was selected by the ruling Kuomintang in a closely-controlled vote in the National Assembly. The election is thus the culmination of Taiwan's transition from fifty years of one-party KMT dictatorship to a full-fledged democracy.
Prof. Peng (right) and Mr. Hsieh (left).
As we reported in the previous issue of Taiwan Communiqué (no. 68, pp. 15-17) the DPP's candidate is Professor Peng Ming-min, a former political science professor at Taiwan National University, who won the DPP's primary in September 1995.
Professor Peng's running mate is Mr. Hsieh Chang-t'ing, a prominent lawyer, who became well-know in Taiwan in 1980, when he served on the defense team for the "Kaohsiung Eight." This trial of eight major opposition leaders, who were arrested after a December 1979 Kaohsiung human rights day demonstration, became a turning point in Taiwan's history. Mr. Hsieh subsequently served two terms in the Taipei City Council, and in 1989 won a seat in the Legislative Yuan. In 1992 he was reelected for another term.
Professor Peng is a long-time political activist, who played a pioneering role in the island's democracy movement: in 1964 he was arrested and imprisoned for publishing a manifesto titled "A Declaration of Formosan Self-Salvation", a document in which he and his co-workers called on the Kuomintang authorities to abandon their goal of "recovering" China, and urged the establishment of a democratic system under constitutional rule on the island.
He was sentenced to eight years imprisonment, which after strong international pressure was later converted to house arrest. In 1970 he made a dramatic escape from the island, and received political asylum in Sweden. He subsequently moved to the United States, where he became active in the overseas Taiwanese democratic movement. An account of his story can be found in his book A Taste of Freedom, Memoirs of a Formosan Independence Leader, published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1972.
After 20 years in exile, he was able to return to Taiwan in November 1992, and continue his quest for a free, democratic, and independent Taiwan nation. Dr. Peng has been a lifelong human rights activist, and served as president of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA) in Washington DC. He holds a Doctor of Law degree from the University of Paris, and L.L.M. from McGill University in Canada, and a B.A. degree from National Taiwan University.
In the upcoming elections President Lee Teng-hui is the Kuomintang's candidate. According to observers, he is expected to win, but the race could be close, because a number of dissenting Kuomintang members have declared their own candidacy, and are expected to cut into the KMT's traditional support (see article below).
A major reason for the dissent within the Kuomintang is the fact that many of the old mainlanders and their offspring who used to tightly control the ruling party, are gradually sidelined by President Lee, who is native Taiwanese. Mr. Lee is thus "Taiwanizing" the Kuomintang, which is increasingly becoming a more Taiwan-oriented party, and losing its mainland-Chinese roots.
However, the Kuomintang has until now not been able to discard the "unification-with-China" legacy left by the mainlanders who came over to the island with Chiang Kai-shek in the 1940s. It is possible that after the presidential elections, the new president can with a new popular mandate finally cast off these shackles and fully complete the "Taiwanization" of the political system on the island.
As we reported earlier, the New Party which broke away from the KMT in 1993 was established mainly by second-generation mainlanders, who saw their influence in the "Taiwanized KMT" of President Lee dwindle. The mainlanders constitute 15 percent of the island's population, and are mainly concentrated in major cities such as Taipei, and in a large number of "military villages" throughout the island.
Until now, the New Party was able to present itself as proponents of "clean politics", free of the "money politics" of the ruling Kuomintang. However, it will be increasingly difficult for the New Party to maintain its image, because more and more old-time hardliners are abandoning the Kuomintang and crossing over to the New Party.
A prime example are former general and ex-Prime Minister Hau Pei-tsun and Mr. Lin Yang-kang, who are both vice-chairmen of the Kuomintang. This unlikely odd-couple are now respectively vice-presidential and presidential candidate running against President Lee. The two have received the support of the New Party.
Candidate Lin Yang-kang to warlord Hau Pei-tsun: "Welcome aboard."
Mr. Lin Yang-kang declared his candidacy in August (see Taiwan Communiqué no. 67, p. 18), and intended to run as an independent. However, in mid-November he teamed up with the former Prime Minister and hardliner Hau Pei-tsun. The two subsequently received the endorsement of the New Party, whose own candidate, Mr. Wang Chien-hsuan, bowed out of the race on 9 December 1995. On 12 December 1995, a disciplinary committee of the Kuomintang decided to expel Mr. Lin and general Hau, formalizing their break from the Kuomintang Party. However, the two have stated that they do not accept the expulsion, and will remain in the KMT.
To add to the confusion in the pro-unification camp, Mr. Chen Li-an, the son of a former KMT prime minister, also declared his candidacy, and is running a dark-horse race.
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