Mon, Nov 28, 2005 - Page 3 News List

Upgrading agriculture in Yunlin could be a winner

FIELDS OF DREAMS The DPP's plans to radically revitalize the county's farming could help them wrest control there from the KMT for the first time in over five decades


Candidat for Yunlin County commissioner, the Chinese Nationalist Party's Hsu Shu-po

The Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) five-decade rule of agricultural Yunlin County may come to an end in Saturday's elections. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) are determined to win the local-chief elections and their candidate has put forward a number of practical agricultural policies aimed at turning Taiwan's poorest county, a place plagued by a culture of "black gold" and vote-buying, into a bright and prosperous agricultural center.

Abrupt end

The KMT's rule ended abruptly last December, when former county commissioner Chang Jung-wei (張榮味) was arrested on charges of alleged corruption involving a waste-incinerator construction project. Since then, the county's leadership has been in the hands of Li Chin-yung (李進勇), a DPP member who was appointed by the central government to replace Chang.

Saturday's elections will see KMT representative Hsu Shu-po (許舒博), a 43-year-old fourth-term legislator, and the DPP's Su Chih-fen (蘇治芬), a 53-year-old former legislator whose family has a long history in the politics of Yunlin, fight it out for control of the county.

A keenly fought competition is expected on Dec. 3 as several recent polls carried out by different media groups suggest that Su is slightly ahead.

In Yunlin's past, local factions have played a decisive role in many elections. Results of past elections have shown that the support of Chang's faction, disunited since his arrest, will play a key factor in any election victory.

To unite the factions into supporting the KMT, Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has visited Yunlin several times to take part in Hsu's campaign activities. Hsu reportedly said that he has more than 70 percent support from former-commissioner Chang's voter base.

However, the DPP is also busy throwing its weight behind their candidate, Su. President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has visited Yunlin four times this month and has helped to sell Su's policies about turning Yunlin into Taiwan's most competitive agricultural county, or its "Agricultural Capital."

In the 20 townships of Yunlin County, cropland makes up over 68 percent of the total land area. The local farmers' irrigation associations dominate proceedings during elections.

Fallow-fields policy

Since Taiwan joined the WTO in 2002, a compulsory fallow-field policy has been implemented to avoid creating a surplus of fruit and vegetables and to help tackle water shortage problems.

Farmers in more than 10 of the county's townships have been affected. Meanwhile, randomly reported cases of heavy metal pollution in many paddy fields have highlighted the plight of the county's agriculture.

"Yunlin's roots lie in agriculture. An ideal local government would help to technically upgrade it, modernize it and internationalize it," Su said during a press conference two weeks ago.

Wu Ming-ming (吳明敏), a marketing professor at National Chung Hsing University, told the Taipei Times that Su's policies, if implemented well via the local government, might practically improve the lives of the region's poor farmers.

Wu, who is also an agricultural consultant to the Taiwan Thinktank, said, "However, the county will have to pay substantially during the transition. For example, ensuring sufficient selling channels and the safety of agricultural products relies on regulatory reforms."

KMT candidate Hsu's policies rely on the speeding up the development of the Yunlin offshore industrial park. The former KMT-led local government had worked with the central government to carry out projects ensuring water and electricity supplies.

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