Wed, Oct 25, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Taipei race: a question of sacrifice

By Lin Tai-wei 林岱緯

With the completion of the candidates' registration for the year-end Taipei mayoral race, the election is now widely seen as a warm-up for the 2008 presidential poll. In addition to former presidential candidates -- People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) and independent Legislator Li Ao (李敖) -- former Kaohsiung mayor and premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷), who has yet to deny his ambitions to run for the nation's highest office, has thrown his hat into the mayoral race. It is clear that the outcome of this election will have have an impact on the 2008 race.

The question is why Hsieh, after giving up the premiership, was willing to humble himself and run for the mayorship. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) are still struggling under the weight of the corruption allegations against Chen's family members and close aides. Hsieh himself is finding it hard to steer clear of the fallout from the irregularities surrounding the construction of the Kaohsiung mass rapid transit (MRT) system. Many DPP supporters therefore regard Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) as the party's savior.

To help Su secure a shot at the presidency in 2008, his followers are attempting to distance him from Chen to avoid being implicated in the scandal surrounding the president. By the same token, they also want to remove any potential competitors to avoid the prospect of an ugly DPP presidential primary that could further damage the party's image. They have already succeeded in forcing former DPP legislator Shen Fu-hsiung (沈富雄) to drop his mayoral ambitions and called on Hsieh to run for the post instead.

From the perspective of Su's supporters, Hsieh's chances of winning the mayoral race in Taipei -- traditionally a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) stronghold -- are, of course, slim. The controversy surrounding the construction of the Kaohsiung MRT is bound to haunt him during the campaign. Putting Hsieh under public scrutiny will weaken his ability to move toward the DPP's presidential nomination. And if Hsieh fails to garner enough votes in the Taipei race, he will not have enough momentum or support to compete with Su for the 2008 election.

After his resignation as premier, Hsieh started his unofficial campaign for the 2008 race by undertaking inspection tours around the country and befriending many people in the non-governmental sector in order to extend his influence beyond Kaohsiung. While Su's supporters may think that a "loser" is not entitled to another shot at office, they cannot deny the fact that Chen won the presidency after having lost the Taipei mayorship to Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九). Why wouldn't Hsieh be able to pull off the same trick?

As for Hsieh, it is by no means unreasonable for him to run for Taipei mayor. The media focus involved in a mayoral election in the nation's capital and the sympathy he has generated from the pan-green's small voter base in Tai-pei for "sacrificing himself for the sake of the party" could turn him into a hero for many DPP supporters. This would be a big step toward building up his momentum for the presidency even if he were to lose the mayoral election.

Su, on the other hand, has the vantage point of the premiership and has allied himself with DPP Chairman Yu Shyi-kun to suppress Hsieh. This could, however, make him the strongest opponent in the eyes of the pan-blue camp, which could prompt them to launch an early attack against the premier. And with the opposition holding a legislative majority, anything short of a good political record and a clean image could land Su in hot water.

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