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Tue, Feb 08, 2000 - Page 2 News List

Secrets of the first wives' club

With the presidential vote less than two months away, the major candidates are sparing no efforts to build up a sense of momentum to their campaigns. Their wives, meanwhile, have each kept busy themselves -- some offstage, some not quite offstage -- exerting a dose of so-called `women power` in a bid to win over any votes they can. Taipei Times staff reporter Lauren Chen found out that just as their husbands differ in style and philosophy, so do their `better halves.'

By Lauren Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

Lien Fang Yu, the wife of KMT candidate Lien Chan.

FILE PHOTO

A former "Miss ROC" beauty queen, Lien Fang Yu (連方瑀), the wife of vice president and KMT presidential candidate Lien Chan (連戰), has been dubbed by some as being "the most suitable candidate for First Lady."

In an opinion poll released on Jan. 29 by the SET cable network, 33.3 percent of female respondents described Lien Fang Yu as "the most fitting candidate for first lady," while Chen Wang-shui (陳萬水), the wife of independent candidate James Soong (宋楚瑜) came second with 31.1 percent. DPP presidential hopeful Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) spouse, Wu Shu-chen (吳淑珍) came in a distant third with just 5.2 percent.

But KMT grass-roots leaders are not convinced of Lien Fang Yu's vote-pulling power.

During a swing through the counties last November aimed at boosting Lien's campaign, KMT secretary-general Huang Kun-hui (黃昆輝) was told in no uncertain terms to keep both Lien Fang Yu, as well as Liu Tai-ying (劉泰英), the head of the KMT's business empire, out of the picture during the presidential race, according to a party official who preferred to remain anonymous.

"Both Lien Fang Yu and Liu are `poison' to the KMT's presidential box office," the unidentified KMT local official said.

Lien Fang Yu's problem is that with her "Miss ROC" background and marriage into the family of the wealthy vice president, she appears to have lived in a family-oriented gilded cage of privilege with which people find it difficult to identify.

At the same time she is neither media-savvy nor a good campaign speaker. As a result she has met with a backlash of unpopularity from the public -- much as her husband has during the campaign.

"Unlike Soong's wife, Chen Wang-shui, Lien Fang Yu pays more attention to family and her children than to interaction with the public. So, in terms of exercising campaign language, Lien Fang Yu is not as familiar as Chen," said Chen Shei-saint (陳學聖), a KMT legislator and campaign spokesperson for Lien.

Chen also pointed to a lack of political guile.

"Lien Fang Yu is a decent and innocent person, and she has always said whatever flashes into her mind. No doubt, she has no intentions to hurt anybody, but her words could easily be given new twists by either the opposition or the media."

Her daughter Lien Hui-hsin (連惠心) has similar concerns about her.

"My mother treats everyone as if they are a good guy," she says. "I sometimes worry that she may be deceived [by others]."

In such a scenario, Chen and other campaign counselors have advised Lien Fang Yu to do "less talking, more handshaking.''

Soong's secret weapon

Although these would-be members of the "first wives' club" all claim to dislike engaging in political affairs, both Soong's wife, Chen Wang-shui, and the wife of the DPP's Chen, Wu Shu-jen, find themselves quite welcomed -- at least compared with Lien Fang Yu -- by their husbands to help boost campaign momentum.

Soong once described his wife as his "secret weapon,'' saying he could always rely on her to lend an ear to grass-root opinions.

Chen has said that she has more extensive channels for gathering information at the grassroots than her husband because his political prominence makes it difficult to meet people in natural settings.

Chu Tzong-ko (朱宗軻) a Soong campaign official who has already worked together with the former KMT secretary-general for 20 years, pointed out that Chen Wang-shui's style is rather exceptional in political circles.

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