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Tue, Apr 24, 2001 - Page 4 News List

New Party fighting for its life as elections approach

LAST STAND The party needs 5 percent of the vote in year-end legislative elections to keep vital government funding. It polled 0.13 percent in the presidential elections last year -- long before the newest desertions

By Crystal Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Reflecting the New Party's more glorious past, this file photo from Oct. 10, 1995, shows the party's supporters participating in a flag-raising ceremony at Kuangfu Elementary School in Taipei.

PHOTO: TAIPEI TIMES FILE PHOTO

For most political parties the year-end legislative elections will be a race to keep or gain as many seats as possible. For the pro-unification New Party the greatest challenge will be to survive.

Today, the party holds just seven seats in the legislature, having plummeted from 21 in 1995, a time when some believed the young opposition party was poised to become the country's third largest political force.

Also, since last year's formation of the People's First Party (PFP) after the presidential elections and Lien Chan's (連戰) redirection of the KMT back toward its pro-China roots, the unique political niche that the New Party used to fill has narrowed.

Those who choose to stay blame external factors for the party's decline -- such as the reported poaching of members by the PFP. For many, the strife-prone party has outlived its life expectancy.

"The New Party should engage in some soul-searching and examine why one member after another breaks away and none want to come in," said Yao Li-ming (姚立明), a political scientist from Chinese Culture University who deserted the party himself three years ago.

In 1990, a group of reform-minded KMT lawmakers formed a faction called the New KMT Alliance. Their vocal criticism of the establishment earned them applause from grassroots supporters but estrangement from the KMT leadership. In 1993, six members from the alliance quit the KMT to form the New Party, frustrated at what they saw as a dangerous drift by then president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) toward independence -- and the prevalence of corruption in government.

"With the creation of the New Party, voters no longer have to choose between two evils -- between the corrupt KMT and the pro-independence DPP," Jaw Shaw-kung (趙少康), one of the six founders, liked to say during election campaigns.

In 1994, Jaw ran for the first directly elected Taipei mayoralty. Eloquent and charismatic, Jaw drew hundreds of thousands of supporters to his rallies.

Hsu Huang-ming (徐皇敏), 39, a resident of Taipei, said he cast his vote for Jaw in the mayoral race. "In him, I found chivalry. It took great courage to say no to the rulers at that time," Hsu said.

Although Jaw did not win the mayoralty, he helped send 11 fellow colleagues to the Taipei City Council, ending the KMT's majority control in the capital city for the first time. Under his leadership, the New Party won 21 seats in the 1995 legislative elections with 14 percent of the votes.

But before long, feuding erupted among its elite members.

In line with the party's charter, those holding public office were also the party's leaders, who themselves bickered over how to run the party.

Some, including former convener Chou Yang-san (周陽山), preferred a conservative approach, while others, notably Jaw, favored radical tactics.

"It was not right that a select few were able to set the party's rules and alter them all the time," said a former New Party lawmaker, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

At the insistence of Jaw, the party held a primary to decide its candidates for the 1998 legislative polls.

The bold experiment turned out to be a fiasco. Several contestants were accused of dishonest electioneering and some left the party after failing to be nominated.

The infighting took a heavy toll on the New Party. In the end, the party captured just 10 legislative seats with 7 percent of the vote in 1998.

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