Wed, Jul 04, 2001 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: A man for all seasons

Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), the best salesman for Taiwan's democracy, made very strong statements about the nation's political situation during his 10-day visit to the US. Both in Los Angeles and at Cornell University, Lee repeatedly emphasized that he will not retire until Taiwan's economy recovers its previous prosperity.

Driven by a strong sense of mission for Taiwan, intellectuals across the country echoed Lee's statements and swarmed into CKS International Airport yesterday to welcome him home. For the people of Taiwan, the appeal of "Mr Democracy" comes from his deep feelings for this land and from his political foresight. When Taiwan was under threat from Chinese missile tests in 1996, the people gave Lee a majority of the vote in the presidential election in recognition of his leadership, rejecting Beijing's crude attempt to interfere in Taiwan's domestic politics.

Lee understood the longing of the people of Taiwan to be their own masters after 400 years of hardship under foreign domination. Soon after coming to power in 1988, Lee reformed the geriatric legislature, brought the military firmly under government control and initiated direct presidential elections. Lee carried out one political reform after another, leading eventually to a peaceful transition of political power that allowed a native-born political party to come to power and permitted Taiwan to break free from the fate of living under alien regimes.

Lee once said, "The only difference between me and Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) is in whether to establish a regime in which the people of Taiwan hold power and a regime that serves the people of Taiwan." A "president in the tiger's mouth" is an apt description of the dangers Lee faced in his attempts to transform an iron-fisted alien regime into a party that identifies with Taiwan.

However, localization never firmly took root within the KMT despite the reforms initiated by Lee during his chairmanship. Instead, Lee's successor Lien Chan (連戰), surrounded by many "Greater Chinese" nationalists, has begun to purge Lee's influence from the party and steer it away from his localization policies. For example, KMT headquarters has turned its back on Lee's "special state-to-state" model for relations with China, instead choosing to try to mislead the people of Taiwan with a "confederation" model, which has long been proven unfeasible. What's more, some of the KMT's old guard such as Lee Huan (李煥) have echoed Beijing's stance in demanding that the party accept "one country, two systems."

Not surprisingly, Lee has had no choice but to come out of retirement and work to ensure that the KMT continues to walk the localization path.

One can expect Chinese nationalists to hurl vitriol at Lee because in their eyes he is the one who has sold out their political interests. Ironically, all these attempts to attack and sideline Lee have only served to provoke the resentment of a large number of people in Taiwan, who voluntarily flocked to the airport yesterday to show their support for his political platforms. It was an unprecedented scene in Taiwan politics.

Now that Lee is back home, a new political atmosphere is bound to take shape. Whether or not Lee will personally lead the establishment of a new political party, he will face both applause and boos from all corners of Taiwan's political arena, and give rise to a race between clear-cut political camps. Lee is very likely to not only steal the limelight from candidates but dominate in one form or another the year-end elections.

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