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Tue, Mar 14, 2000 - Page 10 News List

Not all crows are the same shade of black

By Dennis Engbarth

The most important election in Taiwan's history has sadly become dominated by extensive use of negative campaigning tactics that aim to persuade voters against casting ballots for rival candidates through the time-honored tradition of mudslinging or, in Taiwan political language, "painting black (抹黑)."

The usual motive behind mudslinging is to convince voters that "all the crows are the same shade of black" (天下烏鴉一般黑) and to imply that the crow with the deepest color -- and the longest experience in being "black" in this sense -- may the best qualified to lead the flock.

In the current campaign, there is little if no debate about which party is most closely associated in the public eye with "black gold" corruption. In its 54 years of power just in Taiwan, the KMT maintained institutional corruption in the era of the authoritarian party-state and fostered pervasive "black gold" money politics to retain power in the post-martial law period.

Lien Chan (連戰) has endeavored to shake off the bad image from this legacy by vowing to "declare all-out war on "black gold" politics and to implement "sunshine" reforms on Jan. 2. Most polls showed that few voters took Lien's conversion seriously.

Moreover, Lien's own actions -- notably his decision to share campaign platforms with such notables as ex-convict legislator Wu Tse-yuan (伍澤元) of Pingtung County, reputed "Tientaomen" (天道盟) gang spiritual leader Lo Fu-chu (羅福助) of Taipei County and Yunlin County Commissioner Chang Jung-wei (張榮味). Whether Lien discussed his war strategy with these notables is worthy of question.

The case of mainland-born former Taiwan Provincial Governor and ex-KMT secretary-general James Soong (宋楚瑜) appears more complex given Soong's effort to package himself as a "reformer" despite his role in helping to repress the tang wai (黨外) grassroots opposition movement in the late 1970s and 1980s.

But the Chung Hsin Bills (中興票券) Finance scandal exposed a previously dimly perceived darker side to Soong's record as KMT secretary-general and Taiwan provincial governor that has yet to be adequately addressed. Only the declaration of support for Soong by former justice minister and Investigation Bureau chief Liao Cheng-hao (廖正豪) helped stem the outflow of support from the Soong campaign.

Despite Liao's image as an anti-corruption fighter, the color scheme in the ex-KMT secretary-general's camp seems to be taking on tints all too similar to that of the KMT candidate.

Last week, Soong gained the support of KMT Taichung County assembly speaker Yen Ching-piao (顏清標), who joins other controversial figures such as former Legislative Yuan speaker Liu Sung-fan (劉松蕃), a major faction leader in Taichung County and former chairman of the Taichung Business Bank and important witness in the Kuang San enterprise stock default scandal.

The competition between Lien and Soong for the "loyalty" of politicians such as Yen Ching-piao or Chang Jung-wei does little to bolster public confidence in the likelihood of either candidate ringing in a new era of clean government. Lamented Academia Sinica president Lee Yuan-tseh (李遠哲) last Friday: "The only people standing up for candidates are corrupt politicians."

Lee's observation was accompanied by his decision on Friday to stand beside DPP candidate and former Taipei Mayor Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

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