Sat, Nov 06, 1999 - Page 1 News List

Yunlin braces for election

CAMPAIGNING OVER Residents of Yunlin County in central Taiwan go to the polls today to elect a county commissioner. Each candidate is confident of victory

By Lin Chieh-yu, Lauren Chen and Oliver Lin  /  STAFF REPORTERS IN YUNLIN COUNTY

Premier Vincent Siew walks the streets of Huwei in Yunlin County yesterday while campaigning for KMT candidate Chang Cheng-hsiung.

PHOTO: CHEN CHENG-CHANG

The most important election in Taiwan's short democratic history -- to choose its leader for the post-Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) era -- takes place a little over four months from now. But residents of Yunlin County could have been forgiven last night for thinking it was happening today, as campaigning wound up for the by-election to choose their new county commissioner.

On the final night of campaigning, as mandated by law, all three candidates drove themselves to the brink of exhaustion with last-minute efforts to sway voters. Mostly on foot, they "swept the streets" by walking through key townships, pressing the flesh as they went, stopping only to hold a number of mass rallies.

Each camp expressed its confidence of victory, though members of some expressed concern that last-minute vote-buying by rivals could sway the outcome.

The KMT, as had been expected, brought in its heavyweights to help the party's candidate, Chang Cheng-hsiung (張正雄). Although President Lee was noticeably absent, Chang was accompanied yesterday by Vice President Lien Chan (3s戰) on his walk, which began at the Touliu train station with firecrackers going off all around.

The honor guard included KMT Secretary-General John Chang (31孝嚴), Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬-^?E), senior adviser to the presidential office Hsu Li-teh (徐立德) and many other senior KMT and government officials.

Dripping sweat from the intensity of the day, the KMT candidate passed from door to door shaking voters' hands. With supporters filling the narrow streets of his hometown amid the din of the firecrackers, officials said they were feeling ever-more optimistic.

Meanwhile, the DPP's candidate, Lin Chung-li (林??禮), and independent Chang Jung-wei chose Huwei township as their final battlefield.

Lin, escorted by DPP presidential candidate Chen Shui-bian (3?糮?/CHINESE>), party chairman Lin Yi-hisung (林義雄) and other senior party officials, paraded through the township in a long convoy of trucks and cars before staging a rally at a nearby high school campus. Chang Jung-wei followed a similar pattern.

At least one time during the day, the two camps came face-to-face on a street -- though no incidents of violence were reported.

While nothing is for certain in this race, all three candidates' camps had the same message -- that they will be taking home the main prize today, barring unforeseen incidents.

Liao Feng-jung (1顳p榮), a KMT official in the Yunlin county office, estimated that the party's candidate would garner around 147,000 votes. Kao Meng-ting (高孟定), Chang Jung-wei's campaign manager, predicted Chang will take away 148,000 votes. And DPP official Chou Yi-cheng (周弈|? said Lin is expected to gain 130,000 votes.

A total of 530,000 residents are eligible to vote in the by-election, and many observers expect a voter turnout of approximately 60 percent.

KMT organization department chief Johnson Chen (3紐?g) said the difference between Chang Cheng-hsiung and Chang Jung-wei will be fewer than 3,000 votes. He said the KMT had to boost its candidate's support along the county's coastal areas if it hoped to win.

From observing conditions in Yunlin County, however, it appears that the specter of vote-buying could well be the deciding factor in the race -- something both party officials and analysts have been saying from the beginning.

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