Tue, Jul 01, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Hang-ups over Hualien serve no one

The upcoming Hualien County commissioner by-election, which otherwise would have merely been a political blip in a small town, has now become a training course for campaigners from both the blue and green camps for next year's presidential election. However, any conclusion derived from the Hualien race about the that election will be a stretch. What's more interesting are the problems that have been exposed in both camps during their nomination processes for the by-election.

Hualien has been a KMT stronghold for half a century. No non-KMT candidate has ever won the commissioner's seat.

This by-election should have been a sure win for the blue camp, but internal conflicts have now created uncertainties. In an effort to win back power in next year's presidential race, the KMT decided to field a joint KMT-PFP ticket. This has given rise to fundamental power conflicts in the alliance, of which Hualien is but one example.

Backroom trading at the central government level and neglect of local opinion were some of the reasons behind the KMT's defeat in 2000. The KMT-PFP alliance is making the same mistake now. The blue camp has insisted on Hsieh Shen-shan (謝深山), a former chairman of the Council of Labor Affairs, to run in the by-election. Though a native of Hualien, Hsieh never cultivated a local power base. Mean-while, the KMT's Wu Kuo-tung (吳國棟), a former county commissioner with links to the PFP, has vowed to run no matter what. Wu enjoys solid support from local factions. Officials from both KMT and PFP headquarters have gone to Hualien to try to defuse the conflict but have failed so far.

The only key to integration in the KMT-PFP alliance is the secret deals between KMT Chairman Lien Chan (連戰), PFP Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) and a handful of other officials. Such horse-trading is built on the hope that the bounty of central government power can be shared in such a way as to stop the objections coming from within both parties.

The problem is that top party officials may be bought off with promises of Cabinet or legislative seats, but KMT-PFP cooperation has a very negative impact on local factions. Usually the commissioner or mayoral election is the only battlefield for local factions. Now that the two parties have joined hands, which side should relent and withdraw from the competition?

The KMT no longer has the massive political and business resources it once had to buy off local politicians. Local power struggles will continue to explode in the coming months and this is exactly the fulcrum point where the green camp can employ divisive strategies.

During his many inspection tours of local construction projects over the past month, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has held secret nightly meetings with many local-faction leaders, including some traditional KMT vote captains and independent elders who have long been KMT allies. Chen is apparently hoping to take advantage of the KMT-PFP conflicts to win over local power bases.

The problem is that the DPP has failed to nominate its own candidate. It can now only encourage Liu Chao-eh (劉詔娥), the widow of the late commissioner Chang Fu-hsing (張福興), to break away from the blue camp and run. But such a strategy will definitely raise questions about the DPP's platform. In the last Hualien election, the DPP strongly criticized the KMT's Chang, yet now it wants Chang's widow to take the job.

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