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Mon, Apr 17, 2000 - Page 3 News List

Legislators looking for new footing to stay on top

POWER STRUGGLE Legislators Liao Hwu-peng and Liu Ping-wei stand out as two prominent examples of politicians attempting to remain in positions of power while the legislature experiences a major power shuffle following the KMT election defeat

By Monique Chu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Last Tuesday, while Vice President-elect Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) stood in the office of the legislative speaker, complaining of having been left out of the decision making process for the new government, President-elect Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) listened on, grinning.

The tense atmosphere, in light of the second-in-command's complaints, added fuel to rumors of a growing rift between herself and Chen over the distribution of power in the new order.

Then, as Chen concluded the address he had come to deliver and tension caused by Lu's remarks had died down somewhat, KMT legislator Liao Hwu-peng (廖福本) unexpectedly burst upon the scene.

"Congratulations!" he said to Chen and Lu, shaking their hands, before turning around and leaving just as suddenly.

The incident, which drew giggles from a roomful of surrounding reporters, provided much-needed comic relief, effectively diffusing what had been until then an awkward and uncomfortable moment.

While some observers may have found Liao's interruption out of place, insiders interpreted the clown-like move as part of a deliberate publicity stunt amid a power shuffle in the legislature following the KMT's presidential election loss.

"He's just trying to gain as much as he can while the current legislature remains in chaos," said a KMT legislator who preferred to remain anonymous.

LIAO THE FREE AGENT

The "chaos" the lawmaker alluded to can be seen in moves by various party caucuses to look for alliances or any kind of cooperation with their counterparts following the presidential election -- especially following the establishment of failed candidate James Soong's (宋楚瑜) People First Party (PFP).

Although some KMT legislators said their party -- which still holds a nominal majority -- can continue to influence the lawmaking process and thus check the executive branch and the DPP president, critics said public posturing by the party will be of little use unless KMT legislators are themselves united.

But unity is precisely what is evading the KMT legislative caucus.

Liao himself has been busy talking up the probability of joining the PFP because, in his words, "the prospects for KMT reform appear slim." Liao told the Taipei Times that if he crossed the floor, ten other KMT legislators could well follow suit.

Liao also debunked the functional majority -- 116 seats out of the total 225 -- as "a false majority ... an unsubstantiated majority" that could easily evaporate.

When serving as the KMT's party whip in the Legislature five years ago, Liao, together with some other KMT legislators, were often dubbed by observers as "experts" on how to maximize personal gains at the KMT's expense by threatening to take its votes elsewhere.

At that time, the KMT outnumbered opposition parties by a margin of only some half a dozen seats, so that the loss of any KMT votes risked the KMT's power in the legislative chamber.

Five years later, Liao appears to be making use of the same threat.

WHO WANTS LIAO?

Liao's posturing, however, has received a mixed response from both the KMT and the PFP.

Lin Jung-rong (林建榮), the KMT's legislative caucus whip, urged Liao to think twice before jumping the KMT ship.

"These KMT lawmakers should think thoroughly about what they are doing before joining the other side," Lin said.

Sources have said that at an internal KMT meeting last week, acting chairman Lien Chan (連戰) claimed that the party would not accept the "threat" of leaving made by by some KMT legislators.

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