Sun, Feb 22, 2004 - Page 9 News List

The fight down south

By Graham Norris  /  STAFF REPORTER


While the presidential candidates bicker over referendums, personal assets and dodgy donations in Taipei, an altogether more local campaign is being fought in the nation's second city.

In Kaohsiung, where a little over 1 million votes are up for grabs, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Mayor Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) has been given the task of making sure the party gets far enough ahead of the pan-blue parties in the south to offset the DPP's weaknesses in the north.

At a luncheon recently with foreign journalists, Hsieh gave estimates of President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) support in every southern county. Hsieh, who won 50.04 percent of the vote in the 2002 Kaohsiung mayoral election, said he thought he could lift this figure to 55 percent. Chen, he said, wants 60 percent.

Hsieh is basing his campaigning efforts for Chen on his own achievements in Kaohsiung. He points to the beautification of the Love River, once a flowing cesspool through the center of the city but now the center of the festival celebrations in the city. He is also proud of cleaning up the city's tap water, which had become infamous for its foul smell.

It was Chen who helped Hsieh improve the tap water by leaning on the Taiwan Water Supply Corp, which had told Hsieh his desires for clean water were unrealistic. Re-elect Chen, Hsieh says, and Kaohsiung residents can enjoy the fruits of more cooperation with the central government.

The DPP's pride in turning Kaohsiung from a dirty port city into a place worth living in is apparent in the party's campaign headquarters, which is little more than a converted shop. Scenic pictures of the city, particularly taken from the banks of the Love River, adorn the meeting the room. Even larger photos are on a truck the party has converted into a mobile stage, an idea Hsieh had to save money on renting venues for campaign events.

The head of the campaign headquarters is Joe Chou (周和男), a shopping center manager when he's not campaigning for the DPP. Chou said that much of what Hsieh had achieved in the city was a result of central government funding that flowed south thanks to Chen.

"If the central government does not support Hsieh's ideas, then you can imagine he can not do a lot of things, because of the budget," Chou said. "The central government has been so supportive of Frank Hsieh. Traditionally the KMT only focused on the northern part, on Taipei. Now the southern citizens want their fair share. That's all we ask."

At spacious offices of the headquarters of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)-People First Party (PFP) alliance, campaign manager Lin Hsiang-neng (林享能) has his own estimates of support for the parties. He said KMT Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) could rely on the support of a core of 39 percent of Kaohsiung voters, and the pan-green camp 35 percent or 36 percent.

For him, the difference in the outcome might be the weather. Lien and Soong combined beat Chen in the 2000 election by 53.25 percent to 45.37 percent, when the turnout was over 84 percent. But the pan-blue camp's support fell to 46.36 percent in the 2002 mayoral election, when the turnout was only 71 percent.

"No matter what the weather, the pan-greens will vote," Lin said.

Lin, a former chairman of the Council of Agricultural Affairs, thinks the vote-winner for the pan-blue camp is the economy. Chen has presided over the nation's first recession in living memory for much of Taiwan's young population, and Lin is putting the blame for this squarely at Chen's doorstep.

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