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Backstabbing war eclipses victory by former premier


DPP unity erodes; Su's loss also seen as setback for Chen

Speculation over the unity of Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party has started after its presidential primary that featured unprecedented backstabbing among the four hopefuls.

And apart from the unity problem, analysts said yesterday the primary result also represented a defeat for President Chen Shui-bian, whose long-time rival - former premier Frank Hsieh Chang-ting - beat his favoured candidate - Premier Su Tseng-chang - to win the first phase of the primary.

Mr Hsieh, 61, collected more than 62,800 votes yesterday, compared with 46,900 votes for Mr Su. Of the 250,000 DPP members, about 143,000 cast votes.

Mr Hsieh easily trounced DPP chairman Yu Shyi-kun, who received about 22,000 votes, and Vice-President Annette Lu Hsiu-lien, who had just 8,600.

During the first-phase primary, which will be followed by a second phase in the form of an islandwide public opinion survey scheduled to be held from Wednesday to Friday, the four hopefuls from the independence-leaning party resorted to mudslinging and mercilessly criticised one another.

Just three days before the primary, the Taiwanese edition of Hong Kong's Next magazine quoted a prosecutor as saying Mr Hsieh was a suspect in a corruption case, even though no official charges have been laid against the former premier. The article was backed up by a photo of a judicial document written by the prosecutor that alleges Mr Hsieh illegally accepted at least NT$30 million (HK$7.05 million) in political contributions from a businessman.

An enraged Mr Hsieh rejected the charge and alleged Mr Su was responsible for leaking the document. 'I've led the cabinet before, and I know the premier has access to such documents.'

However, Mr Su fought back by telling Mr Hsieh it would become a serious problem for the DPP if he faced corruption charges while campaigning as the party's presidential candidate.

Meanwhile, the other hopefuls also got in on the act, with Ms Lu alleging President Chen had shown bias by openly backing Mr Su. She said Mr Chen had claimed he would remain neutral.

'President Chen, you must admit that you are biased,' she told cable news network TVBS yesterday. Ms Lu said it was unfair for Mr Chen to say there was no problem for Mr Su to continue serving as premier and draw on administrative resources for his campaign while other hopefuls had no such access.

Mr Yu, who took a leave of absence as DPP chairman to campaign, joined the war of words by accusing Mr Su and Mr Hsieh of betraying the party's core pro-independence spirit by favouring a conciliatory policy towards the mainland.

The mudslinging among the four hopefuls in the campaign was described by local media reports as the worst since the party was formed in 1986. Analysts said that with the opponents resorting to such smear tactics, rival camps within the DPP would find it difficult to reconcile.

'Although the DPP has been known for its ability to patch up after fierce campaigning, there remains a big question mark over whether it can do so this time,' said Liu Bi-rong, a professor of political science at Soochow University.

He said the result of the first-phase primary also indicated that President Chen's influence was waning. 'It can be seen as a defeat for Chen Shui-bian as his favoured successor failed to win even the first round,' Professor Liu said.

Primary participation

Of the 250,000 DPP members, the number to cast votes in the presidential primary was about