Sat, Feb 23, 2008 - Page 3 News List

Presidential election: Rivals prep for TV debate

By Benjamin Yeh  /  AFP , TAIPEI

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) and his Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) rival Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) will clash face-to-face for the first time tomorrow in the first of two televised debates, with Hsieh looking to use the debates to close the gap in the opinion polls.

Hot topics are likely to be how to improve the economy, national identity and cross-strait relations.

"The coming debate will be important, especially to Hsieh, who is lagging behind in the campaign," said Lo Chih-cheng (羅致政), a political science professor at Soochow University. "It will provide a platform for the two candidates to compete on an equal footing."

Both candidates will answer 20 questions during a two-hour session before they grill each other, debate organizers have said.

Ma's campaign is focusing its election strategy on the economy, believed to have been a major factor in the KMT's sweeping victory over the DPP in January legislative elections.

Ma has promised annual economic growth of 6 percent, up from the current estimated 4.5 percent, and a 3 percent fall in unemployment within eight years if he is elected.

He has also vowed closer political, business and social ties with China, including prioritizing the opening of direct links and easing restrictions on visits by Chinese tourists.

"I believe, as in the legislative election, voters will use their ballots in another no-confidence vote against the impotent, corrupt DPP government," KMT Legislator and Ma campaign manager Justin Chou (周守訓) said.

He was referring to a wave of high-profile corruption cases implicating President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and his family, which analysts say is Hsieh's biggest campaign weakness and a reason why he has been distancing himself from the president.

The DPP, for its part, has been questioning Ma's loyalty to Taiwan, suggestions flatly rejected by the KMT.

On investment into China, Hsieh wants the government to review restrictions and allow for flexibility on a case-by-case basis on major projects instead of applying the 40 percent limit across the board.

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