As the presidential election campaign enters its final month with the two pairs of candidates tied in a close race, former presi-dent Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) could hold the key to the success of President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) re-election bid by expanding the "pro-localization" vote base.
Although he retired after 12 years as president, Lee is not resting on his laurels. After handing over the reins of power to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in 2000 and leaving the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in the same year, Lee has played an active role in civic movements promoting the establishment of a Taiwan-centric identity and "building a complete nation of Taiwan."
With the various campaign activities picking up speed in the finishing stretch to the March 20 election, the biggest event exemplifying Lee's dedication to consolidating the will of Taiwan's people and his determination to help Chen's re-election will be the upcoming "228 Hand-in-Hand Rally," which is expected to attract more than 1 million participants around the country on Saturday.
PHOTO: LIN YA-LIH, TAIPEI TIMES
One goal of the rally, which will take the form of a 500km-long human chain, is to drive home the message that Taiwan's people reject the threat of China's 496 missiles being pointed at them. It will also commemorate the 228 Incident of Feb. 28, 1947.
The chain will start at the "peace island" north of Keelung County, where many of the victims' corpses were buried in the aftermath of the 228 tragedy.
People will join hands all the way from Keelung, down along the western coast of Taiwan across bridges, along the beach and mountains, and then down to the southern tip of Taiwan's Oluanpi (
"This is a historical event, because we are not only commemorating the tragedy that took place in Taiwan, we are also indicating our willingness to move forward. We are calling this event not only to protect Taiwan, but also as an event to promote reconciliation," DPP Legislator Hsiao Bi-khim (
"We are reconciling the oppression and bitterness of ethnic conflicts of the past and moving forward in the spirit of solidarity to protect Taiwan from unwanted external threats," Hsiao said, adding that this is reflected in the event's name, because "holding hands" also means "spouse" in Taiwanese.
"It not only signifies the literal meaning of holding someone's hands, it also embodies the values of love and partnership," Hsiao said.
The idea of a "228 Hand-in-Hand Rally" was inspired by the 1989 Baltic Chain, in which 2 million people in the three Baltic countries Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia formed a 590km-long human chain to express their opposition to Russian occupation.
Following this massive event, the three countries started the process of holding referendums to vote for independence. In 1990, Lithuania became the first to declare its independence by means of a referendum, despite Russia's military threat.
Estonia and Latvia later used the same process to declare independence.
Mart Laanemets, a research fellow in the Center for Oriental Studies at the University of Tartu in Estonia and currently a Taipei-based academic, said yesterday that "the importance of the Baltic Chain is that people gained the confidence to demonstrate their willingness to pursue independence. After the human chain rally, there was no retaliation by Russian troops, and that helped us to gain the confidence to push for independence step by step."
Comparing Taiwan's internal divisions over the independence issue to a similar situation in Russia-dominated Estonia, Laanemets said that, before gaining independence, one part of the Estonian public supported independence while the other wanted to remain part of the Soviet Union. In Taiwan public opinion is divided between pro-unification and pro-independence factions.
Laanemets said Taiwan could take a leaf out of Estonia's book by bravely demonstrating the people's will and letting their voice be heard in the international community in order to gain more recognition for independence.
"Some historians said that, for Estonia, World War II ended only in 1994, three years after gaining independence, when the Russian troops left the country. The Cold War will end only in May this year when Estonia officially joins the European Union. In Taiwan, World War II is not yet finished. It will end only when the international community recognizes the right of Taiwanese people to create an independent state," the Estonian academic said.
"The Taiwanese people should not fear China, because we have learnt from experience that even a superpower like Russia, which possessed a massive military capability, would concede to Estonia's independence drive. The international situation changes and the people quickly learned to use this change to promote the independence movement," he said.
He said the people of Taiwan should strive to gain more international support, because the international community would put pressure on the Beijing government to change its attitude towards Taiwan.
The "228 Hand-in-Hand Rally" is not only the result of a close partnership between the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) and the DPP, but also shows that the TSU, with Lee as its spiritual leader, has emerged as a formidable force consolidating grassroots pan-green supporters as well as having an increasingly significant effect of Taiwanese society.
Although the TSU has only 12 seats in the legislature, this small party has gained momentum in its social influence since its inception in 2001 by engaging actively in social movements and consolidating pro-independence forces.
Lee's promotion of Taiwan as a completely independent nation and building Taiwan's identity as separate from China has resonated with DPP supporters who found themselves estranged from Chen's move toward a more moderate approach to independence over the past four years.
The momentum for this "localization force" has seen significant growth since last year, notably resulting from China's mishandling of relations with Taiwan during the SARS outbreak, as well as a series of domestic campaigns that range from changing the name of Taiwan, promoting a referendum law and rewriting the Constitution to Saturday's human chain rally.
Chen Horng-chi (
Chen Horng-chi said that when the KMT regime's five-decade authoritarian grip and its rigid ideological education were brought to an end, people's minds started opening up and they learned to recognize Taiwan's value as an independent nation.
"These Taiwanese people used to be controlled by the KMT as if they were on a lead, but now they have been gradually awakened and that's why we see the increase of supporters for this `pro-Taiwanization' force recognized by more and more swing voters," Chen Horng-chi said.
Former president Lee, who was a member of the KMT during his 12 years as president, turned his back on the KMT's unification dream to energetically promote what is seen as the Holy Grail of Taiwan's future -- an eventual separation of Taiwan as independent from China and creating a unique national identity.
Since early last year, Lee has made it the TSU's priority to help Chen Shui-bian win re-election, which would promote the homegrown political power and increase the TSU's number of legislative seats in the legislative election at the end of this year.
Chen Horng-chi said that Lee has grave concerns about Taiwan's future, and regards the period until 2008 -- when China holds the Olympic Games -- will be a golden time for Taiwan to complete the process to transform itself into a "normal country."
Lee's industrious advocacy for Taiwan's future can be seen in his active participation in major social movements aimed at highlighting the country's plight of isolation from the international community as well as promoting Taiwan-centric values.
The think tank Taiwan Advocates (
Chen Horng-chi said the massive name-change rally that was held on Sept. 6 last year was the turning point for Chen Shui-bian's public support rate. Before the rally the president had lagged significantly behind the pan-blue alliance's joint presidential ticket of KMT Chairman Lien Chan (
In the Sept. 6 rally, led by Lee, more than 150,000 people took to the streets in Taipei to call for changing the country's name from "Republic of China" to "Taiwan."
The rally effectively destroyed the "one China" myth, on which both the KMT and China insisted, although with different interpretations, when Lee declared that the "ROC" didn't exist.
"The greatest thing about Lee is that he knows where Taiwan's danger lies -- the problem of the Taiwanese identity," Chen Horng-chi said.
Encouraged by the overwhelming support the name-change rally received, the DPP held a similar large-scale referendum march in Kaohsiung on Oct. 25 last year.
With increasing support for a deepening of democracy, Chen Shui-bian proposed on Sept. 17 last year to rewrite Taiwan's Constitution and urged the passage of a referendum law.
Unable to resist this growing trend, the pan-blue camp finally came to terms with the demand for a referendum and contributed to the passage of the Referendum Law (
Lee is not only a vote magnet for Chen Shui-bian in solidifying fundamentalist support, but also attracts the "pro-localization" faction within the KMT.
The votes that Lien received in the previous presidential election largely resulted from Lee's support base. Whether Lee will be able to further sway this KMT "pro-localization" force in the upcoming presidential poll will be an important factor to determine Chen Shui-bian's chances to be re-elected.
Chen Horng-chi had also been a member of the KMT who later joined the TSU. He said the KMT's "pro-localization" faction was uncomfortable with Lien's joining forces with the PFP's Soong.
Soong has become a very controversial character following the exposure of the Chung Hsing finance scandal four years ago, which is widely believed to have resulted in Soong losing the 2000 presidential election.
Many "pro-localization" politicians in the KMT are upset about KMT and PFP teaming up for the presidential election.
"Judging by the results of the previous presidential election, the combination of Lien and Soong seems to be the perfect match. But many people have started to regret the pairing on this joint ticket," Chen Horng-chi said.
"They are now thinking that matching Lien with Taipei City Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (
However, Chen Horng-chi said that, despite being disappointed with Soong's performance, these "pro-localization" politicians would not opt for an approach opposing the process of democratization.
"They would remain observant but they wouldn't go as far as Soong, who said he wouldn't vote in the referendum," Chen Horng-chi said.
This dilemma has prevented the pro-localization KMT politicians from giving their full support to Soong. Instead, in the run-up to the March election, Lee is expected to play an important role to further sway their support.
The dilemma is also reflected in these politicians' limited leverage to win more support for the KMT.
"A KMT council speaker at the local government admitted to me that his individual influence to garner support for the Lien-Soong ticket is limited to people connected to him only, and it is very difficult to expand the support base to the community at large. This is because Lien and Soong have proposed no clear vision for the country," Chen Horng-chi said.
"That's why former president Lee has been seen joining in a nation-wide campaign tour to solicit local support," Chen Horng-chi said.
He said that KMT legislator Liao Fung-te (
Concluding that Lee carries a lot of weight in converting the KMT's support to the pan-green camp in the run-up to the election, Chen Horng-chi said that Lee would further exercise his local connections accumulated through his 12 years of administrative experience as president, as well as in his previous office in the Taiwan Provincial Government to win more "pro-localization" votes.
On the other hand, Soong's local support, which originated from the monetary support he gave to the local government when he served as provincial governor, has faded during the past four years, Chen Horng-chi said.
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