Sun, Nov 16, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Yunlin commissioner keeps pundits guessing

KEY PLAYER Analysts aren't sure just how much PFP Chairman Soong's act of penitence contributed to Chang Jung-wei's decision to back the pan-blue ticket

By Huang Tai-lin  /  STAFF REPORTER

After days of appearing trapped in a seesaw struggle between People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong's (宋楚瑜) kneeling penitent gesture and President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) goodwill gesture, Yunlin County Commissioner Chang Jung-wei (張榮味) yesterday declared he would side with the pan-blue camp in the presidential election.

Chang said he intends to mobile at least 15,000 supporters to Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)-PFP campaign rally next Wednesday in Yunlin to boost the candidacy of KMT Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and Soong to voters in central Taiwan.

"If there is time [during the rally] I will take the occasion to officially announce that I will head the presidential campaign in the Yunlin area," Chang said.

Chang became the focus of media attention last Sunday when Soong surprised everyone by kneeling before Chang during a banquet with local politicians in Yunlin. Telling Chang, "I am sorry," Soong said the central government had probably rejected the county's water-resources budget request because Chang had met with him last month.

Chang later said that Soong must have misunderstood the situation because financial con-straints, not politics, had been behind the government's decision -- comments that were praised by Chen the following day. Chen's remarks were then interpreted by political observers as a token of goodwill.

Suddenly, who Chang would back for next March's presidential election became the subject of intense speculation.

Dodging the question as to whether his backing the pan-blue camp was connected to Soong's act of penitence, Chang focused instead on the PFP chairman's performance when he was Taiwan provincial governor [1993 to 1998].

"Soong did much for the people [in Yunlin when he was governor] which I appreciate," Chang said. "Being a KMT member myself, I know what I should do."

"Clearly defining my position is also a gesture of respect for Chen," Chang said. "At time like this when two parties are vying for one position, I think the sooner I declare my stance the better -- I can prepare myself for combat mode."

In the 2000 presidential election, Chen outpolled both Lien, the KMT's candidate, and Soong, who was running as independent, by large margins in Yunlin.

Given Chang's solid base in the Yunlin area, his backing the Lien-Soong ticket was seen by pan-blue members as a big boost.

Chang has had a mixed track record with the KMT. He was stripped of his party membership in 1997 after he decided to run a maverick campaign in the Yunlin County commissioner election that year after the KMT chose Su Wen-hsiung (蘇文雄) as its candidate.

When Su died two years later, Chang won the commissioner post through a by-election. He was re-elected for a second term in 2001 and later re-joined the KMT.

KMT Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) yesterday expressed his appreciation for Chang's support and acknowledged that it could be a great plus for the pan-blue camp's fortunes in the Yunlin area in next year's election.

Meanwhile, not everyone thinks Chang's coming out in support of the KMT-PFP ticket was connected to Sooing's kneeling.

Emile Sheng (盛治仁), a political science professor at Soochow University, said it was an unlikely connection.

Sheng said opinion poll results have shown the support rate for the Lien-Soong ticket declined following Soong's kneeling because "most people found it inappropriate for a vice presidential candidate to be kneeling down willy-nilly."

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