Back in the Spring of 2000, when he was leaving a presidency he had held for over 12 years, 78-years old Mr. Lee Teng-hui was expected to gradually fade away. He talked about writing his memoirs and about entering the ministry as a missionary for the Taiwan Presbyterian Church, where he had been a lifelong member.
However, after a relative smooth transfer to the new DPP administration of Chen Shui-bian, Lee's successor in the Kuomintang, Mr. Lien Chan, started to whittle away at his legacy. In fact, the tension erupted already right after the March 2000 elections. The right-wing extremist elements in the Kuomintang blamed Lee for the election loss, while it was clearly due to Lien Chan's lackluster performance and the fact that the pro-unificationist vote was split between the KMT and James Soong's People's First Party.
Lien Chan subsequently forced Mr. Lee out of his position as KMT Party chairman, and started to break down the "Taiwan First" party line Lee had so carefully nurtured and build up during his presidency. Mr. Lien Chan also surrounded himself with mainlander pro-unificationists, and shunted aside the balanced mix of Taiwanese and mainlanders which Mr. Lee had brought to the upper echelons of the KMT.
Mr. Lien Chan abused his KMT majority in the Legislative Yuan to block the cancellation of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in the Fall of 2000, and subsequently started an ill-fated recall campaign again President Chen, while all the time sending signals to China that he would be more amenable to China than the DPP government.
The cumulative effect of all this was that Lee Teng-hui urged a number of his former lieutenants, led by former Interior Minister Huang Chu-wen, to bolt the KMT and start the Taiwan Solidarity Union. In July 2001, Mr. Lee openly appeared at a gathering with President Chen, spoke at the founding ceremony of the TSU, and increasingly criticized Mr. Lien Chan.
Taiwan Communiqué comment: We commend former president Lee for his courage and dedication to the wellbeing of Taiwan, and for standing up for his principles. He spent many years leading the Kuomintang out of the dark and repressive days of one-party dictatorship and martial law, and it must have hurt him to see the party degenerate into its old bad self so soon after his departure.
Part of the blame for the situation must rest on Mr. Lee's own shoulders: he was the one who selected Lien Chan and James Soong as his lieutenants, and cultivated them through many years at various important positions. Didn't he see their true character sooner?
Still, it speaks of courage _ certainly at his advanced age _ to stand up and call a spade a spade, and distance himself from the party he tried to shape in its recent past. He will be remembered as one of Taiwan's true democrats.
This editorial appeared in the Taipei Times on 22 September 2001. Reprinted with permission.
General Douglas McArthur once said "old soldiers never die, they just fade away." In Taiwan, however, an old soldier who refuses to fade away even if it is because his country needs him _ faces humiliation, injustice and betrayal. This has been proven by a series of appalling insults against former president and KMT chairman Lee Teng-hui that culminated by the KMT deciding to oust Lee yesterday.
The campaign of attrition and humiliation against Lee started the day the KMT lost the 2000 presidential election. Many of those who enjoyed a privileged life as cronies of the Chiang Kai-shek regime blamed Lee and couldn't wait to retaliate to avenge their loss of power. It began with the siege of the Presidential Office and the KMT's headquarters by angry mobs after the election results were announced. Lee was compelled to step down early from the post of KMT chairman under pressure from the very man he had picked as his successor. Then there were vicious allegations by New Party lawmakers that Lee and his wife had left the country with suitcases stuffed with cash. The benefits Lee enjoys as a former head of state have been whittled down at the behest of a KMT-dominated Legislative Yuan.
How sad to see the way Lee is thanked for leading this country and his party through countless political battles and victories -- battles that helped Taiwan achieve its miraculous democratic reforms.
The KMT has said that Lee's party membership was suspended because of his criticisms of the party and his endorsement of the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU). The problem is the KMT deserves all of Lee's criticisms and then some.
After the hard work Lee put in to give the party a "Taiwanese" identity and soul, the KMT has now reverted back into the "Chinese KMT." Party members and officials have been stampeding across the Taiwan Strait to pay homage to China's leadership. According to a report issued by the US think-tank Center for Strategic and International Studies, KMT members have been busy persuading Beijing's government to shut the door on dialogue with the Chen Shui-bian administration.
How ironic that the KMT now willingly kisses the feet of its old archenemy. But the irony does not end there, as the party has also rediscovered a brotherhood with James Soong and his People First Party, as well as the New Party.
The tolerance and generosity of the KMT and its chairman Lien Chan toward these new friends are frightening. Lien turns a blind eye to all of Soong's backstabbing, including a secret meeting with Chen.
Why couldn't Lien have been this loving toward little brother Soong before? Had Lien been willing to step aside and let Soong stand for the KMT in the 2000 presidential election, the KMT would still be the ruling party.
The KMT has reversed its position so many times since Lien became chairman that it is impossible to keep count. How can Lee not get upset seeing the destruction of his life's work? Why wouldn't he have endorsed the TSU, a party that promises to uphold a "Taiwan first" ideology?
Lee represents many things in which this country takes pride -- democracy and the "Taiwan first" ideology top that long list. By severing its ties with Lee, the KMT has turned its back on everything Lee stands for -- and so many people in Taiwan have fought and died for.
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