Sat, Aug 02, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Local factions face off against nation's political stars

HELP FROM AFAR The pan-blue and pan-green candidates received unprecedented help from big-name politicians, while the independent is relying on grassroots support

By Sandy Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER IN HUALIEN

Supporters of independent candidate Wu Kuo-tung, who was expelled from the KMT last month for running a renegade campaign, cheer for their candidate at a rally in Hualien last night.

PHOTO: CHIANG YING-YING, TAIPEI TIMES

The three-way tussle for votes in the Hualien County commissioner by-election has demonstrated the rise of party politics at the expense of local factions. Or has it?

Of the three main candidates -- the DPP's You Ying-lung (游盈隆), KMT-PFP alliance representative Hsieh Shen-shan (謝深山) and independent Wu Kuo-tung (吳國棟) -- only Wu has the network of local support traditionally necessary to win elections.

Although Wu, a former KMT member, was a candidate in the race to represent the pan-blue camp in the election, the KMT and PFP insisted on Hsieh, a former chairman of the Council of Labor Affairs.

Hsieh is a native of Hualien but has never cultivated a local power base. The same can be said for You, who has spent most of his time recently in Taipei.

But Wu, a former Hualien County commissioner who was expelled by the KMT last month for running his own maverick campaign, has been cultivating relations with locals for decades.

To make up for their lack of a local power base, both Hsieh and You have relied mostly on political stars from Taipei.

A string of political luminaries -- including President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), Premier Yu Shyi-kun, Taipei County Commissioner Su tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) and Kaohsiung Mayor Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) -- have shown up to stump for You.

Pan-blue heavyweights such as KMT Chairman Lien Chan (連戰), PFP Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜), Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強) have been campaigning for Hsieh.

"Often, support from local factions and relations with locals cultivated over a long period are what count when it comes to local elections," said Wu Tsai-hsun (吳采勳), a veteran journalist with China Television who is stationed in Hualien.

"But the whole electoral situation this time around is too murky to predict who will emerge victorious from the race, or to tell how effective local factions have been compared to big-name politicians coming to Hualien to stump for their candidates," Wu Tsai-hsun said.

Although he lacks the resources available to party-backed candidates, Wu has shown a remarkable ability in mobilizing his supporters.

The demonstration of support for Wu on the streets of Hualien means that You and Hsieh have been unable to discount Wu in their campaign strategies, despite Wu's poor showing in opinion polls.

A victory for Wu would indicate once again that all politics is local.

Indeed, the Wu camp, in response to Hsieh's appeal to "dump Wu and save Hsieh," has come up with the slogan "dump Taipei [Hsieh] and save Hualien [Wu]."

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