Gains for opposition in Taiwan elections

THE ruling Kuomintang (KMT) kept a firm hold over the governorship of Taiwan province yesterday, but suffered an embarrassing loss of the mayoral post of the capital in the island's biggest-ever elections.

Fine weather over most of Taiwan ensured a turnout of more than 70 per cent in the island's first election for the governor of Taiwan province, and the first direct election in the municipalities of Taipei and Kaohsiung since 1964 and 1977 respectively.

James Soong, the appointed KMT incumbent of Taiwan province, passed his first electoral test handily by defeating legislator Chen Ting-nan, of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). He took 56 per cent of the 8.4 million votes, compared to his main challenger's 39 per cent.

Mr Chen won only his native Ilan County and Tainan County of the seven opposition-administered cities and counties of 21 on the island.

Legislator Ju Gao-cheng of the right-wing New Party received only 4.3 per cent of the ballots. Mr Soong thanked Taiwan president and KMT chairman Lee Teng-hui 'for his support and personal concern' for his campaign.

However, DPP legislator Chen Shui-bian gained a measure of retribution for the grassroots opposition party by scoring a decisive victory in Taipei over KMT incumbent mayor Huang Ta-chou and New Party legislator Jaw Shau-kang. After a bitter campaign, Mr Chen gained 44 per cent of the 1.8 million votes cast, while Mr Jaw and Mr Huang almost evenly split the remainder with 30 per cent and 26 per cent respectively.

The ruling party also held on to the industrial centre of Kaohsiung municipality as incumbent appointed mayor Wu Tun-yi defeated DPP legislator Chang Chun-hsiung and three other rivals.

However, the DPP made significant gains in elections for the Taiwan Provincial Assembly and the Taipei and Kaohsiung city councils.

Although acknowledging the gubernatorial vote was 'not ideal', DPP National Assemblyman Hsu Yang-ming said the DPP's gains in the provincial assembly were reassuring. The KMT lost its majorities in the Taipei and Kaohsiung city councils. In Taipei City, the KMT held only 20 seats compared to 19 for the DPP, 11 for the New Party, and two independents. In Kaohsiung, the ruling party ended up with 22 seats, the DPP 11, the New Party two, and nine seats went to independent candidates.

The election marked a milestone in Taiwan's seven-year-old transformation from virtual dictatorship to multi-party democracy.

The results appeared to show the electorate liked the DPP's clean-cut image, but not its fiery brand of Taiwanese separatism, and shrank from handing it the governorship, the highest elected post.

Voters worry about China, which claims Taiwan as a renegade province and has threatened to use force to stop it becoming independent.

'It's a sign that voters want to maintain the status quo,' said Hu Fu, a political scientist at the Taiwan National University.

Still, the DPP's victory in Taipei gives it a high-profile platform from which to preach independence for Taiwan and plan its race for the presidency in 1996.

DPP spokesman Chen Fang-ming said voters 'responded positively to the DPP's clean-cut image'.

The DPP has campaigned strongly against corruption, particularly within the Government and ruling party.

'Voters still have more confidence in the Kuomintang's ability to steer the country, although they are disgusted with their many corrupt practices,' analyst Kao Lang said.

'Most Taiwanese don't want to see tensions with China heightened,' he said.