Wed, Jan 12, 2000 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Government above party

For many years Lien Chan (連戰) has been dismissed as a colorless acolyte of Lee Teng-hui (李登輝). The relationship between the two has often seemed to resemble that of Margaret Thatcher and John Major, the flamboyant conviction politician with an obedient disciple. Of course, following the ouster of the Iron Lady, Major, the famous "grey man" proved to have ideas of his own which were a far cry from the conventions of Thatcherism. Something of the same appears to be happening with Taiwan's own "grey man," the hitherto perhaps underrated Lien.

Lien's problem is perhaps the reverse of Major's. Major came to power as a result of Thatcher's ouster, for which some in his party never forgave him. Lien's problem -- if, of course, he wins on March 18 -- is not the guilt of regicide, but that his mentor is going to be politically very much around well into his presidency. Lee will remain the chairman of the KMT, at least under its present rules, until August next year. If most of Lee's real power comes from his position as party chairman, rather than the comparatively weak powers accorded to the presidency, then it is fair to wonder whether Taiwan will find itself in a Singapore-like situation, with Taiwan's Lee like his Singaporean namesake Lee Kuan Yew still dictating policy from behind the scenes.

Not if Lien gets his way. Lien's aim of putting the KMT's assets into trust is only the first of a number of moves aimed at reducing the clout of the party relative to that of the government. Lien has to lift the government apparatus above that of the party, so that as head of state he really will be his own man rather than remaining Lee Teng-hui's cupbearer.

As such, putting the KMT's assets into trust is not, therefore, a reformist move taken solely with the interests of Taiwan in mind.

If Lien is not criticized for this openly in the election campaign it is only because little goodwill is to be gained by any side for opposing the tying of the KMT's financial hands. But there is strong opposition to his strategy within the KMT itself and we should remain alert to criticism of the incompleteness of Lien's plan for the wrong reasons.

Lien has clarified what should be put into trust -- everything -- but we are still puzzled as to what happens to the large income that the trust would generate. If the KMT is to receive this then the levelling of the political playing field the trust scheme is supposed to bring about will not happen. If the income of the trust is to go to the trust then Taiwan will have a US$20 billion corporation being run for, well, what? Or perhaps the income is to go to the state or society in some way. But the idea of the KMT playing the part of social benefactor is as corrupting to the political environment as the party's vast wealth.

Many questions, therefore, need to be answered about the "assets in trust" plan. But there is a likelihood that, lacking clear answers, the plan will be called impractical by those who want to perpetuate the status quo regarding the source of political power in Taiwan. For make no mistake, Lien might have his own reasons -- asserting himself over Lee Teng-hui -- for lifting the government above the party, but if Taiwan is to become a full democracy this is something that must be done. The government must come before the party. In this particular case Lien's interests are the interests of all Taiwanese.

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