Mon, Feb 21, 2005 - Page 3 News List

Hsieh's rise has been marked by significant highs and lows

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

"A gymnast is lithe and flexible. The premier, a former gymnast, is ready to do somersaults." So says Cabinet Spokesman Chou Jung-tai (卓榮泰), who began working for Hsieh 19 years ago during Hsieh's 1981 campaign for the Taipei City council election.

Hsieh was elected in 1981, along with President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁). This began a 24-year friendly rivalry between the two.

Like most politicians, Hsieh has had his ups and downs. These have included several difficult losses: the legislative election in 1986; the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) primary in the run-up to the Taipei mayoral election in 1994; and the 1996 poll, when he was running-mate to DPP presidential candidate Peng Ming-min (彭明敏).

"I remember the day when he was lagging behind Chen in the 1994 party primary. After spending the afternoon reflecting on his position, he decided to drop out of the second-round of voting," Chou said. "By the next day, he was trying to convince us to help Chen win the election. He asked us to take off his campaign vests and put on Chen's. It was an emotional moment."

The theory behind Hsieh's decision was simple: if he quit and endorsed a stronger candidate, the odds of seeing a DPP mayor in the capital city of Taipei for the first time would be increased.

Although Hsieh was disappointed after the 1986 legislative election, Chou said that he did not feel defeated because he had garnered an impressive number of ballots in the race. He would return, in other words, to fight again.

Hsieh's decision to move his battlefield to Kaohsiung after losing the presidential race raised political eyebrows and was strongly questioned by friends and foes alike.

Despite such doubts, his decision was firm and well thought out. During the presidential campaign, he had observed that the DPP had a growing support base in southern Taiwan that might serve to increase the party's overall power.

Many were happily surprised when in 1998 Hsieh was elected mayor of Kaohsiung, outshining Chen, who was defeated in his bid for re-election in Taipei.

The "Sung Chi-li (宋七力)" incident, however, delivered something of a setback to his political career. A few days after winning re-election in 2002, Hsieh raised eyebrows by reiterating earlier remarks that he believed in Sung, a religious leader, despite a conviction for fraud.

While Hsieh keeps his religious beliefs to himself, Chou said, his friends and colleagues are well aware of his interest in spiritual study.

"He has never invited us to his religious gatherings or tried to convince us to believe what he believes," Chou said.

The incident continues to haunt Hsieh, but Chou said that he saw the premier adopt a "healthier" approach while dealing with the media's inquiries about his religious beliefs.

"The reason behind his seeking guidance from a religious teacher is his keen interest in phenomena that human wisdom finds it hard to decipher," he said.

Describing Hsieh as a thinker and humanitarian, Chou believes that he is beginning to see a decisive side to Hsieh since he took office of premier about three weeks ago.

For example, Hsieh does not like to spend his time attending tedious and unnecessary meetings, but instead likes to spend time thinking. He also tells his ministers to do the same, giving them considerable liberty to make their own decisions.

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