Thu, Aug 16, 2007 - Page 2 News List

FEATURE: Emotions high over ailing Ilan festival

By Loa Iok-sin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Chen Chin-de (陳金德) of Ilan County launched a campaign yesterday to remove Ilan County Commissioner Lu Kuo-hua (呂國華) from office following his announcement last week that this year's Children's Folklore and Folk Game Festival would be the last time the festival, which has fallen on hard times, is held.

"I asked Lu to change his mind within seven days," Chen told the Taipei Times by telephone. "Seven days have passed and he hasn't responded, so I have launched the campaign."

Chen planned to collect 6,811 signatures for the first recall petition as required by law. After the first petition is approved, Chen has to submit a second petition with around 44,300 signatures.

"It won't be hard [to collect the signatures], but whether I submit the petition or not will depend on Lu's response," Chen said.

Lu's decision to end the annual festival drew criticism from both the pan-green and pan-blue camps.

The first festival was held in 1995 when DPP Chairman Yu Shyi-kun was the county's commissioner.

Over the past 12 years, the festival has earned a reputation as a landmark event -- attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors and generating NT$1 billion (US$30 million) in revenue for local tourism industry operators each year, DPP Legislator Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇) said during an interview at the Legislative Yuan on Monday.

Tien is the wife of Liu Shou-cheng (劉守成), a DPP member who served two terms as Ilan County commissioner after Yu and was succeeded by Lu. Lu, a member of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), was elected as the county commissioner in 2005.

Lu told a news conference last week that it was "difficult and painful" to put an end to the festival, but called the decision "unavoidable," citing heavy losses.

Lu attributed the losses to competition from similar events in other cities and counties, in addition to rising living costs, which he said had cut potential visitors' disposable income.

Lu promised that "the county administration will plan another event to replace [the festival]."

However, Lu's announcement drew sharp criticism.

"We [Ilan residents] are horrified because the announcement was so sudden and [Lu] hasn't clarified his plans," KMT Legislator Lin Chien-jung (林建榮) said.

"Lu said the plan for a replacement event would be announced in September, but I think he should have had a plan before canceling the festival," Lin said.

Lin said that a festival "should not be stopped just because it loses money. However bad the situation may be, there are still hundreds of thousands of visitors."

Tien, on the other hand, agreed that the festival had become less successful over the years, but disagreed with Lu's decision to completely call it off.

"The Children's Folklore and Folk Game Festival became a trademark for Ilan, well-known nationwide," she said. "Of course changes need to be made, but the trademark should be kept, not just trashed."

"After all, it takes a lot of effort to establish a brand," Tien said.

In additional to being Ilan's trademark festival, the event also provides opportunities for international contacts and can enhance Taiwan's relations with other countries, Tien said.

"We invite performing groups from different countries each year and arrange for the kids in these groups to stay with local families," she said. "We teach them Taiwanese folk songs and ask the host families to take them around."

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