Sun, Mar 18, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: Chiang Kai-shek’s last challenger

In 1954, Hsu Fu-lin ran against the KMT leader for president after his arrival in Taiwan; Chiang ran unopposed in every subsequent election until he died in 1975

By Han Cheung  /  Staff Reporter

A portrait of Hsu Fu-lin when he ran for
vice-president in 1948.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

March 19 to March 25

While Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) ran unopposed for his last three presidential elections in 1960, 1966 and 1972, he actually had a challenger in his first election in Taiwan.

On March 22, 1954, 75-year-old Hsu Fu-lin (徐傅霖) of the China Democratic Socialist Party (中國民主社會黨) became the last person to challenge a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate for the next four decades. Chiang’s successors, his son Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) and later Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), continued the practice of running uncontested.

Taiwan did not have direct presidential elections back then; the nation’s leader was chosen every six years by the National Assembly. The problem was that this assembly’s members were supposed to be elected directly by the people — but elections had been suspended since 1947 and the same members would remain in place until 1991.

On that day, 1,573 National Assembly members gathered at Taipei’s Zhongshan Hall. It was a strange election as just over half of the 3,045 members were present; the others either did not make it to Taiwan after the KMT retreat or were absent for other reasons. The votes were cast — but because less than half the members validated the result, the assembly had to vote a second time. Chiang obliterated Hsu, 1,507 to 48.

‘EXAMPLE FOR DEMOCRACY’

This wasn’t the first time Hsu ran against the KMT. Six years prior, at the former KMT headquarters of Nanjing, Hsu finished dead last in the election for vice president.

While the KMT banned the formation of new political parties during the Martial Law era from 1949 to 1987, there were two legal parties who retreated from China to Taiwan alongside the KMT — in addition to Hsu’s party, there was also the Young China Party (中國青年黨). Both were allowed to participate in the first National Assembly elections in 1947.

Power was heavily skewed in favor of the KMT from the very beginning. During the first National Assembly elections in 1947, the KMT nominated more than 2,000 candidates while the Young China party and Democratic Socialist Party both fielded fewer than 400 each.

The KMT dominated the polls, with the other two parties winning less than 80 seats each. Both parties threatened to leave the government in protest, and the KMT ended up forcing some of its members to concede their seats in a controversial move that led to much internal discontent. But the assembly was still heavily dominated by KMT members, rendering the “opposition” as not much of an opposition.

“The KMT altered the election structure in 1954 and also strengthened its under-the-table negotiations so it could further control the elections,” historian Wang Yu-feng (王御風) writes in the book, History of Elections in Taiwan (台灣選舉史).

In fact, a short biography published to commemorate Hsu’s death in 1958 acknowledges the futility of challenging the KMT, stating, “When he ran for vice president and president, he knew that it was an impossible feat but he still pushed through, just to set an example for the nation’s democracy.”

TOTALITARIAN RULE

Chiang was not supposed to run again for president in 1960 due to constitutional term limits. Chiang claimed that he was against amending the constitution to keep him in power, and instead the National Assembly amended the Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of National Mobilization for Suppression of the Communist Rebellion (動員戡亂時期臨時條款), which allowed him to run for infinite terms as long as the Temporary Provisions were still in place.

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