Tue, Apr 05, 2011 - Page 8 News List

The hidden face of Taiwan politics

By Jerome Keating

Whether one is pan-blue or pan-green, there is a moneyed side to Taiwanese politics that few know about and maybe even fewer want to know about. As in other countries, within that moneyed side are the financiers and contributors who look for and support marketers who will promote their vested interests.

These contributors search out people who, regardless of party, will act in the spotlight on their behalf, allowing them to remain in the background. On the receiving side of these contributions are the marketers (more coarsely, the shills) who, like chameleons, can change color depending where the money is.

Taiwan has several of these chameleons, but perhaps the master, bar none, is Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential nominee hopeful and two-time DPP chairman Hsu Hsin-liang (許信良).

Hsu is one of those strange entities in Taiwan; a man who has always wanted to lead the parade, but has rarely had a sustainable following. He is a man who loves to talk and press the flesh, but has not had a recognizable job in decades. Yet, surprisingly, he seems to live well enough — so much so that he makes many wonder where his money comes from.

As the presidential campaign for next year begins to ramp up, it is not surprising to see Hsu throwing his hat in the ring, letting the contributors know that this shill is available.

The pan-blue camp’s nomination process is pretty well determined. Unless a disaster happens, its candidate will be President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九). Little chance there.

The pan-green camp, on the other hand, is another story. Its candidate has yet to be determined and so Hsu has borrowed cash for the NT$5 million (US$171,000) needed to register and be qualified to speak at all televised presentations and policy sessions.

Some may wonder, how can the DPP allow this man back in, especially after he went over to the other side during the 2004 campaign and courted former vice president Lien Chan’s (連戰) money. However, membership in the DPP is loose. As long as one registers and pays the current dues and has not officially been kicked out in the past, then anyone, even the bluest of blues, can join. While Hsu left in the past, he was never officially kicked out.

Hsu had started out on the pan-blue side long ago. However, when the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) would not let him run for Taoyuan County commissioner in November 1977, he ran as an independent and won.

The KMT looked for ways to stuff the ballot box to prevent his victory. Hsu and his people recognized this and protested strongly in what became known as the Zhongli Incident. In the end, the KMT was forced to accept him as Taoyuan County commissioner.

Now begins the more checkered side of his life.

Hsu participated in the tangwai (outside the party) movement protests in the following years and was forced out of his post as county commissioner at the beginning of 1979 because of his involvement with the movement.

This proved a blessing in disguise for Hsu, as he would be abroad during the Kaohsiung Incident in December of that year and all prominent members of the tangwai movement were arrested, put on trial and sentenced to long jail terms. Thus, while most others were languishing in prison, Hsu was learning fundraising and enjoying the benefits of free income and donations.

Hsu is partly an ideas man, but he is primarily a marketer who follows the money and enjoys the wining and dining life style that such marketing involves. As a tangwai member, he had notoriety and a ready audience who would contribute to his cause of opposing the KMT’s one-party rule.

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