Lien backs Soong for his `kneeling'

MISUNDERSTANDING: The KMT chairman finally came out to support his running mate for going on his knees in front of the Yunlin commissioner

By Huang Tai-lin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Tue, Nov 11, 2003 - Page 1

The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) yesterday threw its support behind People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜), who unexpectedly got on his knees in front of the Yunlin County commissioner on Sunday to apologize for the central government's rejection of a water conservation budget for the county.

After a day of refusing media inquiries for comment about the episode, KMT Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) yesterday said his running mate in next year's presidential election was highlighting the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration's malpractice.

Outside KMT headquarters, Lien told reporters that Soong acted "for the sake of local development and for the people."

Soong surprised diners and members of the media when he knelt before Yunlin County Commissioner Chang Jung-wei (張榮味) on Sunday during a banquet with local politicians in Yunlin.

Soong apparently blamed himself for the government's rejection of a water-resources budget request for the county to improve water conservation. He said the government probably turned down the budget to retaliate against Chang for his meeting Soong last month.

Soong then abruptly got down on his knees and said, "I am sorry," to Chang.

Chang embarrassed Soong by later saying the PFP chairman must have misunderstood the situation because financial constraints, rather than politics, were behind the government's decision to turn down the budget request.

But to try to avoid completely humiliating Soong, Chang then described him as a "sentimental person."

While Lien refused to comment further yesterday, KMT Secretary-General Lin Fong-cheng (林豐正) said that Soong's gesture was "meant to highlight the DPP's malpractice, in which it uses administrative resources for its campaign purposes."

Adding that special methods were needed to highlight the DPP administration's problems, Lin said, "We support Soong's gesture because we don't think there's anything wrong with what he did."

Despite the public support for Soong, privately some KMT members found his actions unnecessary.

"Soong, being a vice presidential candidate, ought not to be kneeling down willy-nilly," one KMT member said on condition of anonymity.

Soong yesterday tried to play down the incident, saying he was moved by the plight of the nation's farmers, who, he said, had been neglected by the government.

The Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) yesterday kept up the pan-green camp's criticism of Soong.

Asserting that Taiwan was a democracy where public infrastructure projects were carried out under open and transparent policies, TSU Legislator Chien Lin Whei-jun (錢林慧君) said Soong's action was "a manifestation of his mindset for the restoration of the old order."

"We cannot agree with Soong's repeated kneeling stunts," Chien said, referring to a similar incident last December when Soong got on his knees during the Taipei mayoral election to beg supporters to vote for Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).

"If [Soong] is elected next year as the vice president, will he kneel again when negotiating with China over cross-strait affairs?" Chien asked.

Also see Editorial: Kneeling not the mark of a leader