Ma picks veteran economist as presidential running mate
Taiwan's Kuomintang presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou has surprised many by picking veteran economist and former premier Vincent Siew Wan-chang as his running mate for next year's election.
Mr Siew, 68, also a former KMT vice-chairman, would be the chief economic planner in drafting policies to reinvigorate Taiwan's economy, Ma said yesterday.
'I hope Mr Siew will be my chief architect in mapping out measures to stimulate the long-sagging economy,' Ma said.
He decided to pick Mr Siew due mainly to 'his extensive experience, noteworthy contributions to the country, willingness to work with other political parties and never-ending ideas for national development'.
Mr Siew, who served 10 years as a diplomat and nearly 30 years as an economic official, has been credited with maintaining steady economic growth for Taiwan during his stint as premier under the KMT government in 1997.
He was widely praised as a capable cabinet leader who ensured healthy growth while the region suffered during the economic crisis.
Ma, who is on trial on charges of embezzling office costs, also praised Mr Siew's neutral political stand, which allowed him to work with other political parties as long as it was of benefit to Taiwan.
Mr Siew has been invited by President Chen Shui-bian, of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, to represent Mr Chen at an Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation informal leaders' summit.
Mr Siew said he accepted the offer to be a running mate for Ma because the presidential contender told him the island needed him to end seven years of disappointing economic growth.
'Although I have left government posts, I have never stopped caring about Taiwan's economy.
'Therefore when Mr Ma invited me, I decided to accept his offer,' Mr Siew said.
The island's gross domestic product shrank by 2.17 per cent in 2001 during Mr Chen's first year in office, compared with 5.77 per cent GDP the previous year. The GDP rose 6.07 per cent in 2004 when Mr Chen was re-elected, but growth slid again in 2005 to 4 per cent.
Ma's presidential opponent, Frank Hsieh Chang-ting, of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), expressed surprise at the selection of Mr Siew.
'I don't know why [Ma] decided to pick Vincent Siew. According to our opinion survey, if he picked legislature Speaker Wang Jin-pyng as his running mate, it would mean a tough battle for us, but Siew, well ...' Mr Hsieh said.
Mr Wang, who declined an offer to run alongside Ma, however, praised the decision, saying Mr Siew was an economic expert and a native Taiwanese who should be able to help overcome the shortcomings of Ma, who has been criticised over his economic strategies and mainland background.
The Hong Kong-born Ma, whose parents came from the mainland, has been troubled by critics who say he prefers the mainland to his adopted home of Taiwan.
DPP legislators also were divided yesterday over whether Mr Siew would make a good fighter for Ma during his presidential campaign.
'Vincent Siew is an economic expert and has enjoyed a positive image even after President Chen became president in 2000. He definitely would help Ma Ying-jeou win support from neutral voters,' said Wang To.
But DPP colleagues said Mr Siew was an 'old-timer' who had been defeated before.
Mr Siew had served as then vice-president Lien Chan's running mate, taking on Mr Chen in the 2000 poll.
One analyst said Mr Siew was a good choice because of his economic knowledge and native background.
'It is evident that Ma Ying-jeou is trying to appeal to neutral voters with the financial and native background of Vincent Siew, who helped Taiwan fare safely through the 1997 Asian financial storm,' said political analyst Philip Yang Yung-ming, director of the Taiwan Security Research Centre.
Vincent Siew Wan-chang
Born January 3, 1939, in Taiwan's southern city of Chiayi
Graduated from National Chengchi University where he earned his masters in diplomacy
Served as a diplomat and specialised in foreign trade and economy
Started his economic career in the early '80s as head of the Board of Foreign Trade. Became vice-chairman of the Council for Economic Planning and Development in 1988
Became finance minister in 1990, rose to chairman of the Council for Economic Planning and Development
Became a legislator in 1996
Appointed premier in 1997
Served as running mate to Lien Chan in the 2000 presidential election, but was beaten due to the split Kuomintang vote
Became KMT vice-chairman in 2000 and retired in 2005