In his new book, scheduled to be released on Friday, former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) reminisces about his tenure as the Republic of China’s (ROC) first popularly elected president and 50 other defining moments of his life.
Titled A Witness for God: Lee Teng-hui’s Confession of Faith (為主作見證:李登輝的信仰告白), the book centers on Lee’s Christian beliefs and several defining moments in his political career, including former president Chiang Ching-kuo’s (蔣經國) death in 1988 and his controversial appointment of former general Hau Pei-tsun (郝柏村) as premier in 1990.
Chiang passed away on the night of Jan. 13, 1988 and Lee, who was the vice president, succeeded him as president.
Lee later became the first popularly elected ROC president on Mar. 23, 1996, after winning 54 percent of the vote.
“Upon learning of Chiang’s passing, I rushed to his residence and stayed there until midnight,” Lee says in the book.
“I could not sleep that night because neither my wife [Tseng Wen-hui (曾文惠)] nor I knew how to be a president. As Christians, all we could do was pray together,” he added.
Lee said that during their prayers, two things that Chiang once said to him suddenly crossed his mind, guiding him in the right direction.
“Chiang once said that he was a Taiwanese and that no one in his family would ever serve as the president of this country. I started asking myself what could I — a president who had no close aides, no army, no money nor resources — possibly achieve,” Lee said.
“Then I realized there was something I could do: Facilitating Taiwan’s democratization and localization and emancipating the nation from the shackles of China’s emperor-centric ideology,” Lee said.
Lee said the realization of democratization and localization in Taiwan alone constituted a form of independence from China and that he was confident that God would help him overcome challenges and fulfill the goals he set for the country.
Turning to his contentious decision to appoint Hau, a career military officer, as premier, Lee said that although the appointment met with bitter opposition from society, it was a necessary move given the political situation at the time.
“I was calm when finalizing Hau’s appointment and was convinced that the proposal would be approved by the legislature,” Lee said, adding that he had asked for God’s guidance on the matter and that God approved of his decision.
However, in November 1991, news of Hau holding private meetings with high-ranking officials started emerging and escalated tensions between “the mainstream” (people who supported Lee) and “the non-mainstream” (people opposed to Lee). It also galvanized a power struggle in the legislature between the “anti-Hau camp” and the “pro-Hau camp.”
After the legislative election in December 1992, which saw the number of seats occupied by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers increased drastically, Lee said he requested that Hau’s Cabinet resign en masse to set up a constitutional practice, but Hau flatly rejected the idea.
Recalling a personal visit by Hau during the Lunar New Year holiday in 1993, the year Hau resigned from the premiership, Lee said that Hau started by asking him “who he is going to appoint to succeed him.”
“Then he kept talking, so I gradually raised my voice, but he did not stop until after I sternly told him: ‘It is my right to appoint a premier as the president!’” Lee said, adding that his sternness had also shocked his wife, who was upstairs at the time.