Fri, May 19, 2000 - Page 12 News List

Editorial: A legacy of promise and failure

President Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) fulfilled his promise to bring about a peaceful transfer of power in Taiwan, but his democratic successes have been a failure for his own political party, the KMT. Lee's 12 years in power have seen him gradually slip away from the party's orbit. Lee's KMT comrades have now begun attacking not only his actions, but even his legacy. Most of the support and acknowledgement of Lee's achievements is coming from the DPP. It is a bittersweet ending to a long career.

The defeated KMT places the blame for its loss in March's presidential election at Lee's feet. Criticism of Lee within the party has been fierce and his support within it has gradually waned. Lee will have to take responsibility for much of the money politics within the party, as well as cross-strait tensions. Lee is no longer affectionately referred to as "Mr Democracy" within the KMT's headquarters.

The DPP, on the other hand, has been very supportive of Lee and even view him as their mentor. The party often appears to be Lee's real successor, something he seems quite content with. Needless to say this has infuriated many in the KMT.

It was actually accidental that Lee was given the chairmanship of the KMT, a party he has secretly held in contempt all of his life. Lee was forced to accept the party's dictatorial authority over a one-party state in 1988, but over the past 12 years, he has successfully used it to dismantle the authoritarian structure of the state. It is perhaps the best form of revenge Lee could wreak upon the KMT.

Lee traveled a tortuous political odyssey to arrive at the presidency. When he was young, he took part in an underground communist organization in Taiwan, perhaps leading to Beijing's unfounded hopes in him soon after he took office. The PRC later grew to despise Lee, souring cross-strait ties and turning China-Taiwan relations into a key international issue. This is also Lee Teng-hui's legacy.

Lee possesses a brash, folksy style that has turned him into a charismatic and popular leader in Taiwan, even to this day. Lee is also an ardent nationalist and a genuine Taiwan patriot. He has expended a great deal of effort to cultivate a Taiwanese identity, and was the first president to make several trips abroad, raising his status as a national hero.

The "silent revolution" launched by Lee democratized Taiwan's authoritarian government without any major social or political disruptions. It was one of the greatest successes of the third wave of democracy.

Lee reformed Taiwan's political system into a representative government with a free press unrivaled in Asia. Taiwan has become the first Chinese society to experience a democratic government.

But Lee was a failure as KMT chairman. He never really tried to reform the party, instead using its authority to promote political reforms in Taiwan. Lee may be a democratic president, but he is by all accounts an authoritarian party chairman.

Lee also condoned the spread of money politics and stood by while the KMT formed alliances with local political factions and financial groups. Taiwan politics grew more and more corrupt as a result, further hastening the downfall of the KMT. Lee cannot escape blame for the party's fall from power.

Lee has forged a new direction for Taiwan, both in the nation's democratization and the formation of a new Taiwanese identity. These trends will prove irreversible. President Lee has left his indelible mark on Taiwan's history, and deserves his title as the oldest and most colorful leader in Asia.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top