Thu, Dec 22, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Fro the US, a period of watching

By Nat Bellocchi 白樂崎

In the US-Taiwan relationship, there are some similarities in the style, and the state, of presidential leadership. In the continuous watch of what China is doing and in the amount of time the respective administrations have to prepare for the next presidential election. In this process, the US ought to be watching the contest between the two major political parties in Taiwan, just as it is without doubt watching events in China.

If it is watching, it will see the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in turmoil, as one would expect after being badly beaten by the opposition in local elections. It was not a surprising defeat, but an unexpectedly large one that many within the party ranks believe could have been avoided.

An attempt during the first DPP administration to change the agriculture and fishery credit unions -- which for decades had been used by the opposition Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) to maintain their hold on local elections -- was proposed, but the proposal was never acted upon. Many believe it could have reduced if not completely changed the results of the recent elections.

During the last campaign, changes to the preferential 18 percent interest rates that are given to some retired government bureaucrats and military personnel (a holdover from the pre-democratic system) were proposed. However, some are already suggesting this ought to be reviewed. There was also an apparent effort to prosecute candidates who participated in vote-buying (of which it is believed a very large number had been caught during the campaign), but the "black gold" problem still may not be properly addressed.

Another element that many believe is the main reason for the defeat is the revelation of corruption within the government -- a subject that the DPP had previously tried hard to associate with the opposition party. Indeed, the polls seem to indicate that the KMT gained its usual number of votes in these elections, but the DPP's number of votes dropped significantly.

On the KMT side, observers see the results greatly strengthening the standing of the new party chairman. He was already in a strong position given his experience in Taiwanese politics and his name recognition. More importantly, his English-language capability and his understanding of "Western" thinking gives him a perceived advantage over most potential DPP candidates. Following the elections, his statements have been well received both in Taiwan and the US.

Though the KMT's recent victory clearly helped him gain the support of more members within the party, there are still important difficulties to overcome. There are at least three internal matters that need addressing. The old party elite, mainly but not entirely "mainlanders," who disagree with some of the Chairman's stated objectives. Party membership is 70 percent "localized" (ie, Taiwanese,) and there are two individuals who are at least his match in politics -- Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), Speaker of the Legislative Yuan, and James Soong (宋楚瑜), Chairman of the People First Party.

The two major political parties in Taiwan will struggle with each other one way or the other for the next two-and-a-half years. China has already shown that it can interfere, indirectly through the international community and more directly in Taiwan's domestic affairs. The US on the other hand can obviously make its concerns known to Taiwan, but there is now a potential difference in Taiwan's relationship with China that could alter the US' interests there.

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