Taiwan's ruling party wins poll despite scandals
Lawrence Chung in Taipei and Minnie Chan in Kaohsiung
After months of pressure, relief for Chen
Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party breathed a sigh of relief yesterday after securing its traditional southern stronghold in Kaohsiung in mayoral elections.
Chen Chu, 56, a former labour chief and political prisoner, won by a paper-thin margin of 1,114 votes over her Kuomintang opponent, Huang Chun-ying, 65, a former vice-mayor.
In the mayoral race in Taipei, the KMT's Hau Lung-bin, 54, won by a wide margin, as expected. The biggest surprise was the decision by former Taiwan governor James Soong Chu-yu to retire from politics. Mr Soong was running as an independent in Taipei but received just 4.1 per cent of the vote.
The DPP's victory in Kaohsiung showed President Chen Shui-bian and his party still had support even after a series of corruption scandals. Analysts said it would ensure Mr Chen would remain the most powerful person in Taiwan. They said it also proved the loyalty of pro-independence supporters in sticking by the DPP and Mr Chen.
Mr Chen has been under relentless pressure to step down since May over corruption allegations surrounding him, his family and his government. His wife, Wu Shu-chen, was charged with corruption by prosecutors early last month.
Ms Chen told thousands of supporters she would do all she could to become a good mayor 'even at the expense of my life'.
She thanked former mayor Frank Hsieh Chang-ting for laying a good foundation for her in the past eight years and said she also owed a lot to former DPP chairman Lin Yi-hsiung, a respected figure within the DPP who had accompanied her during the last two days in canvassing voter support.
Ms Chen, however, stopped short of mentioning President Chen, who had in the past week used skilful election rhetoric to create a sense of crisis among DPP supporters in Kaohsiung, saying that if Ms Chen lost, the port city would fall into the hands of the KMT.
In Taipei, meanwhile, Mr Hau described his victory as the 'clean KMT beating the corrupt DPP'.
'It is also a victory for the Taipei citizens,' he declared.
Analysts pointed to Mr Hau's failure to win by as big a margin as Ma Ying-jeou four years ago. Mr Ma, the KMT chairman, took 64 per cent of the vote, Mr Hau less than 54 per cent.
George Tsai Wei, a research fellow at the Institute of International Relations, said: 'His DPP opponent [Frank] Hsieh garnered 41 per cent of the popular vote, up 5 percentage points on what DPP candidate Lee Ying-yuan obtained four years ago. Do you think he or his party should feel happy about it?'
Mr Hsieh, a former premier, was fighting an uphill battle in Taipei, having first declined to join in the race and only agreeing to run after much persuasion from the party.
'I accept the result of today's election. I feel bad for not being able to [win],' said a humble Mr Hsieh as supporters shouted 'go for presidency, go for presidency'.
Analysts said the elections showed that the DPP supporters were still reluctant to desert the independence-leaning party.
Political commentator Wang Hsing-ching, known by his pseudonym Nan Fang-shuo, said: 'In the face of elections, they will still stand by the side with the party regardless of whether the president is corrupt or not. The narrow victory [in Kaohsiung] is a big encouragement to both the DPP and Chen Shui-bian.'
He predicted that the DPP would make few changes after the elections.
Mr Soong, who failed in his 2000 presidential bid, and again four years later when he ran for vice-president, was running as an independent this time. He received a humiliating 53,000 votes, a sharp contrast to Mr Hau's 692,000 votes.
Mr Huang of the KMT filed two lawsuits demanding a recount in Kaohsiung and accusing the DPP winner of trying to swing votes by alleging that he bought votes.
Hau Lung-bin KMT 53.8%
Frank Hsieh Chang-ting DPP 40.9%
James Soong Chu-yu People First Party 4.1%
Chen Chu DPP 49.4%
Huang Chun-ying KMT 49.3%