2012 ELECTIONS: Obama told to be neutral in the presidential election

By William Lowther  /  Staff Reporter in Washington

Sat, Dec 24, 2011 - Page 1

US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee Chairperson Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has called on the administration of US President Barack Obama to maintain “strict political neutrality” in Taiwan’s presidential elections.

Ros-Lehtinen issued the call as the administration announced that Taiwan had been nominated for inclusion in the US’ Visa Waiver Program.

Coming so close to the Jan. 14 elections, there had been widespread speculation that the announcement was timed to help President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) win votes and signal that he had Washington’s support.

In a letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton dated Wednesday, Ros-Lehtinen said: “The administration must refrain from speaking and acting in any way that can be identified as supporting any particular candidate.”

She also stressed the importance of remaining vigilant to uncover signs of continued attempts by Beijing to “bully Taiwan or to again interfere with its electoral process.”

Ros-Lehtinen said that her committee staff members had been unofficially informed that an administration announcement of Taiwan’s nomination to participate in the Visa Waiver Program was imminent.

She said that while she endorsed actions to strengthen Taiwan’s ties with the US, the timing of the announcement appeared to be “problematic with regard to the elections to be held in less than one month.”

“The Taiwanese electorate could interpret these as deliverables provided by the administration to Taiwan’s current president just before he faces the voters at the polls,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “It would seem more prudent to schedule any long-awaited announcement as the Visa-Waiver Program after the Jan. 14 elections.”

In her letter to Clinton, Ros-Lehtinen also raised recent high-level visits to Taiwan by US Assistant Secrtetary of Commerce Suresh Kumar, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah and US Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman.

“While I welcome visits by high-ranking US officials, I would add a word of caution. With the elections only weeks away, US officials should be careful to conduct their activities on the island in a manner which projects strict political neutrality,” she said.

Sources close to Ros-Lehtinen said she was worried that voters in Taiwan would see the sudden rush of US activity as support for Ma and conclude that they must keep him in power if they want to please Washington.

Formosan Association for Public Affairs president Bob Yang (楊英育) strongly supported Ros--Lehtinen’s letter.

“The letter represents the wide support in Congress for a free and fair electoral process in the crucial upcoming elections in Taiwan, and for the reiteration of US neutrality regarding the outcome of that process.” he said. “The letter serves as a timely reminder that the successful continuation of Taiwan’s democracy depends largely on the willingness of all parties, including neighboring countries, to respect the choice of Taiwan’s voters.”