Lee is handed a message of change

THE 14th Party Congress of the Kuomintang has put a decisive end to authoritarian politics in Taiwan history.

While the Taiwan media has dubbed his re-election as party chairman the beginning of the Lee Teng-hui era, the congress which runs until tomorrow has showcased a blooming of several species of flowers.

Would-be strongman Mr Lee has in fact been rudely handed the message: institute real reforms and power-sharing or see the KMT - or at least his so-called Mainstream Faction - go down the drain.

This is most evident in the election of the 21-member Central Committee on Thursday, which showed that, in spite of the assiduous efforts by party whips, most delegates gave their votes to candidates who spoke for their factions and regions, or who were deemed best equipped to usher the party into the 21st century.

The balloting also helped speed up the generational change in KMT and Taiwan politics.

The younger generation of politicians, meaning those in their 40s and 50s most of whom have advanced degrees from Western universities, were clear favourites. The young turks accounted for 25 of the 30 highest vote-getters.


''The elections show party members want to think for themselves and they have a strong desire for change,'' said Dr John Kuan, political scientist and former organisation chief who came in 17th. ''Young politicians who have good images and qualificationsare going to the forefront.'' After the establishment of the New Party last month, some advisers to Mr Lee believed that from then on there would only be one voice in the party - the chairman's.

After all, the seven founders of the New Party were some of the most popular members of the KMT's so-called Non-Mainstream Faction, and their departure was thought to have dealt a body blow to the anti-Lee clique.

However, despite the fact that most of the 210 candidates nominated by Mr Lee were Mainstream politicians (a further 159 candidates were nominated by ordinary delegates), Non-Mainstream members did surprisingly well in the ballots.

Taiwan analysts said about 45 hard-core members of the Non-Mainstream Faction - which wants Mr Lee to democratise the party machinery and to speed up exchanges with the mainland - were successful.


And if ''pan-Non-Mainstream politicians'' or sympathisers with the opposition, are included, Mr Lee and his faction controls barely 70 per cent of the Central Committee.

According to newly-elected Central Committee member Chang Yi-hsi, a college professor who thinks the Faction for Institutional Change is a better name for the opposition, ''roughly one-third of the Central Committee will put pressure on Lee Teng-hui to make basic changes to the system''.


It would, of course, be simplistic to equate the Non-Mainstream with reform. A number of clique affiliates are associated with the interests of the army and mainlanders.

However, if only by default, the Non-Mainstream has absorbed a large number of young intellectuals and businessmen as well as overseas-based Taiwanese professionals.

Two of the vocal Non-Mainstream reformers, Dr Kuan and Dr Wei Yung, have called on Mr Lee to liberalise the KMT establishment by, for example, transforming the Central Standing Committee, the KMT's ruling council, ''from a politburo into a club''.


Seeing their surprisingly good showing, Non-Mainstream leaders vowed not to follow in the footsteps of the New Party - and to stay within the KMT to fight for change.

''Lee Teng-hui now faces opposition from both within and without,'' a veteran KMT member said. ''The Non-Mainstream people will likely join hands with the New Party to force the Mainstream to yield power.'' Even assuming that he is committed to reform, some of the election results on Thursday may hamper Mr Lee's efforts at liberalisation.

One is the partial triumph of money politics. To an extent, the gold coins and gold cigarette lighters - or simply cash - have worked their magic.


Nearly all the tycoons who ran without Chairman's Lee's blessings were successful partly due to their thick war chests.

This has prompted the spokesman of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, Chen Fong-ming to say that the biggest winners of the elections were neither the Mainstream nor the Non-Mainstream Faction but the ''Faction of the New Taiwan Dollar''.

Another clique of KMT members which saw a significant gain in influence during the congress are the representatives of cities and counties south of Taipei.

Political observers fear most of the regional representatives are more interested in safeguarding local interests than seeking island-wide political reform.

Even Mr Lee's harshest critics, however, would not rule out the possibility that, humbled by the relative setback of his own faction, the Japanese-and American-educated party chairman might throw his weight behind radical change.

The president's supporters said they were encouraged by the fact that all of the 10 highest scorers in Thursday's ballots were young ministers who already had illustrious achievements in their specialties. Most of them have doctorates from famous Westernuniversities.

They included Interior Minister Wu Puh-hsiung, Overseas-Chinese Affairs chief Chang Hsiao-yan, Justice Minister Ma Ying-jeou, Foreign Minister Chien Fu and former vice-premier Shih Chih-yang.

Unfortunately for the prospect of radical reforms, almost all of the 10 also owe their rise to faithfully carrying out the edicts of former president Chiang Ching-kuo and Mr Lee - and to massaging the egos of party elders in general.

It could take one or two more party congresses for the KMT equivalents of Morihiro Hosokawa and Tsutomu Hata to get to the fore.

By which time, firebrands might decide to join the New Party or form a newer one - and the KMT might already have ceased to be the ruling party.