Fri, Mar 26, 2004 - Page 3 News List

Demonstrations are just a diversion for Lien: analysts

FANNING THE FLAMES According to political observers, the KMT chairman is trying to deflect attention from challenges to his role as party leader

By Huang Tai-lin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) is using the protests by pan-blue supporters to buy time to deal with the internal challenges to his role as party leader, according to political observers.

"In almost any democratic country, the leader of a party that has suffered a defeat in major elections would consider giving up his job as a gesture of taking responsibility for the losses," said Chiu Hei-yuan (瞿海源), a political observer and sociology professor at National Taiwan University.

"Not to mention one who had failed his party twice in bidding for the nation's highest job," Chiu said.

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won the 2000 presidential election with 39 percent of the vote. People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜), a breakaway KMT heavyweight who ran an independent in 2000, obtained 36 percent, while Lien, the KMT's candidate, was a distant third with 23 percent.

This time around Lien joined forces with Soong on a single ticket representing the KMT-PFP alliance.

Lien lost Saturday's presidential race to Chen's re-election bid by less than 30,000 votes.

Prior to the election, many political pundits said that Lien's position as party leader would be at stake if he were to lose the election again.

But at Wednesday's meeting of the KMT's Central Standing Committee, ranking members of the party's highest decision-making body expressed their support for Lien's continued leadership.

KMT Vice Chairman Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) said that "unity at this moment is important."

Pan-blue supporters have also expressed continued support for Lien, but the response was different from that of four years ago.

In the wake of the KMT's humiliating election defeat in 2000, angry demonstrators besieged the party's headquarters, demanding that former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) immediately step down as party chairman.

"Four years ago Lee served as the target for unhappy pan-blue supporters," said Chin Heng-wei (金恆煒), a political commentator and editor-in-chief of Contemporary Monthly magazine.

This time there is no Lee to act as lightning conductor. By denouncing Saturday's election as unfair, Lien deflected pan-blue supporters' discontentment from him to the government.

The pan-blue alliance had originally planned to disband the crowd of supporters outside its campaign headquarters following Lien's speech on Saturday night in which he refused to concede defeat in the election, which he claimed had been unfair.

The alliance changed its plan at the last minute, and both Lien and Soong joined the crowd to stage a sit-in protest against the election result. Before dawn on Sunday morning Lien and Soong led the crowd of pan-blue supporters to protest in front of the Presidential Office, demanding an immediate recount.

The demonstration has been going on for the past four days at Katagalan Boulevard with no sign of ending any time soon.

Chin said the party should now be engaging in introspection to find the reasons why its candidate lost the election, as well as re-examining its political line.

Other issues facing the party in the wake of election include the possibility of reshuffling its leadership, a merger between the KMT and the PFP, and the year-end legislative election.

At Wednesday's Central Standing Committee meeting, Lien said that he would accept all responsibility after the dispute over the election has been resolved.

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