Wed, Nov 15, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Frank Hsieh's low-risk gamble

On Sunday, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Taipei mayoral candidate Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) announced that he would leave the DPP and back calls for President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to step down over corruption allegations -- if People First Party (PFP) Chairman and independent Taipei mayoral candidate James Soong (宋楚瑜) receives more votes than him in next month's poll.

Soong has been instrumental in moves to depose the president, so by throwing down this challenge, Hsieh is saying that if more people in Taipei agree with Soong, then he will join the anti-Chen voices.

On the surface, Hsieh's linking of his election performance to his future conduct may seem foolish and make him look like a political fly-by-night.

But Hsieh's announcement is just the latest ingredient in a campaign that has consisted of a delicate mix of policies appealing to optimism even as he indulges in negative campaigning.

Earlier, DPP legislators close to Hsieh launched several broadsides at his main rival, the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌).

They leveled allegations about how Hau and his father, former premier and KMT bigwig Hau Pei-tsun (郝柏村), had abused privileges that were part of the old KMT system of patronage. They said former high-level officials such as Hau could live rent-free in government housing and have utility bills paid by the state.

These attacks have been offset by more positive attempts at policy formulation.

Along with the election-time promise to clean up Taipei's rivers -- in line with what he did with the Love River during his time as Kaohsiung mayor -- Hsieh has touted the idea of bringing the Olympic Games to Taipei in 2020 courtesy of his experience in helping Kaohsiung win the right to host the 2009 World Games.

Everybody knows Hsieh's Olympic dream is impossible in the face of China's relentless smothering; still, the idea is designed to make Taipei's residents sit up and think: "Why should Taipei be any different?"

However, turning the DPP's mayoral election fortunes into a plebiscite on the president's future shows just how wily an electoral opportunist Hsieh is.

It is a blatant attempt to split the pan-blue vote.

Hsieh is fully aware that Soong is not doing well in the opinion polls and that both he and Soong are trailing Hau by a considerable margin. He also knows that a split blue vote represents his only chance of winning Taipei, long a bastion of KMT support.

However, Hau cannot win without support from the city's deep-blue element, which has so far been behind Soong and his anti-Chen efforts.

In making his offer, Hsieh is trying to tempt those who dislike him and the DPP to side with Soong and thus eat into Hau's support. The strategy leaves him with nothing to lose, as enough pan-blue supporters will stick with Hau to make a Soong victory impossible, which means he will never have to make good on his promise.

If his plan comes off then he will have a chance of victory -- so long as traditional DPP voters do not desert the party in the wake of first lady Wu Shu-jen's (吳淑珍) indictment.

Hsieh may not have factored that outcome into his calculations.

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