Thu, Jan 16, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Scandal sullying Hsieh's image

ROLLERCOASTER Jubilation has turned to damage control for the Kaohsiung mayor after he became implicated in the council speaker vote-buying scandal

By Lin Mei-Chun  /  STAFF REPORTER

Kaohsiung Mayor Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) probably never expected that victory in last month's mayoral election would be followed by a scandal of such proportions that it threatens his political life.

The newly re-elected mayor had little time to celebrate his success on Dec. 7 last year before facing a barrage of attacks implicating him in the vote-buying scam surrounding the council's speakership election.

Coming at a time when he was seen as one of the foremost stars of the DPP, along with President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), the scandal has driven a wedge between his standing in the party and that of the president.

"Hsieh is facing the biggest challenge of his political life," said a presidential official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"Whereas Chen's public support had been raised by his immediate pledge to crack down on bribery, Hsieh's reputation has been tarnished because he failed to provide clear explanations about the role he played in the speakership election," the official said.

The scandal erupted after the election of the council speaker on Dec. 25, when prosecutors found evidence that almost 30 councilors on the 44-member council had sold their votes at NT$5 million each to the controversial and already scandal-tainted Chu An-hsiung (朱安雄).

Although Hsieh never stated a preference for any particular candidate before the election, reports have said that he tacitly endorsed Chu. It is difficult for Hsieh to avoid the fallout from the controversy because his aide, Wang Wen-cheng (王文正), the director of Kaohsiung's Civil Affairs Bureau, has admitted that he lobbied for Chu.

Wang was detained last week on suspicion of approaching city councilors on Chu's behalf and later delivering bribe payments.

Also at issue is the NT$2.8 million Hsieh received from Hsu Wen-liang (許文良), the chief of the Yu Huang Temple. Whereas Hsieh claimed the money was a political donation during the mayoral campaign, prosecutors suspect the money was a payment for Hsieh's approval of an illegally constructed part of the temple.

Hsieh has developed a reputation for being articulate but evasive in the face of disputes.

Before the election, Hsieh offered ambiguous explanations in response to accusations from opposition lawmakers that he had received a NT$4.5 million check from Zanadau majority shareholder Su Hui-chen (蘇惠珍) in 1994 as part of an influence-peddling scheme.

Regarding the vote-buying scam and the payment from the temple, Hsieh has been vague about whether he knew Wang was helping Chu and about why he accepted the payment from Hsu.

"As a lawyer, Hsieh is skillful at analysis from a legal perspective. His explanations may sound plausible under the law. But as a politician, he should answer in accordance with the political responsibility bestowed upon him," the official said.

Holding a bachelor of law degree from National Taiwan University (NTU) and a master of philosophy diploma from Kyoto University in Japan, the 57-year-old mayor is one of the few DPP leaders with a reputation for being talented, quick-witted and erudite.

The competitive yet cooperative relationship between Hsieh and Chen is one of the most talked-about relationships within the DPP.

Chen, who also graduated from NTU's law department, is five years younger than Hsieh. They both began their involvement in politics in the early 1980s when they served as defense lawyers for the political prisoners of the Kaohsiung Incident. Both were elected as Taipei City councilors in 1981.

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