GRASSROOTS CITY COUNTS DOWN TO TAIWAN POLL


2004.03.17
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The southern Taiwanese port city of Kaohsiung is traditionally considered to be the home of the island's democratic movement, but it is far from certain that the city's vote will swing the close-run presidential race in Saturday's ballot, RFA's Mandarin service reports.

"The city has a special position in the history of Taiwan's democratic development," incumbent vice-president Annette Lu told RFA in a recent interview. "Perhaps democracy is not yet fully achieved in Taiwan today, but it is not far from the last step."

Lu, who is also the vice-presidential running mate of incumbent president Chen Shui-bian, was arrested for her role in human rights demonstrations in Kaohsiung in December 1979 by the ruling Kuomintang National Party (KMT), which brooked no challenge to its power at that time. She was sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment.

"We consider that kind of sacrifice worthwhile from all angles because it had hastened the birth of Taiwan's democracy," Lu said.

Kaohsiung, with its population of 1.5 million, is Taiwan's second-largest city and the chief city of the feisty and independent-minded south. It has historically supported Chen's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which can usually count on 60 percent of the city's vote.

"Southern Taiwanese use their votes to express their grievances toward the KMT in every election because they have no other option," southern provincial legislator Yan Wenxiang told RFA. "Even though we are not absolutely sure that Ah-bian [Chen Shui-bian] will be elected, from southern Taiwan's point of view, the white terror of the Nationalist Party still exists."

Yan said the KMT's record in the south was not simply confined to its actions in the days of authoritarian rule. "During the last decade of its rule, the Nationalist Party invested one trillion Taiwan dollars in northern Taiwan's infrastructure while its investment in southern Taiwan was 56 billion. This was almost a 20-fold difference. As a result, the attitude of southern Taiwanese toward the Nationalist Party has always been one of distrust," Yan said.

Chen's KMT opponent in the race, former premier Lien Chan, together with popular running mate James Soong, make a reassuring and formidable option for those voters who are concerned that the island's first DPP president is steering too close to confrontation with Beijing. The KMT has traditionally supported eventual reunification with China, though not under communist rule.

Chen's brainchild, a March 20 referendum aimed at using the popular vote to ward off the threat of military action from Beijing, has been condemned by mainland Chinese officials, who see it as dangerously close to a referendum about whether or not the island should seek formal independence and sovereignty as Taiwan.

Currently, it is ruled under the constitution of the Republic of China, a sovereign entity set up on the Chinese mainland by the KMT after the 1911 revolution of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, and which has scant recognition in the international community. Beijing has threatened military action should Taiwan make any move towards independence, including a formal referendum on the independence issue.

But while Kaohsiung, home to several non-party pro-democracy magazines and a strong pro-independence culture, may still vote against the KMT, others argue that some southerners feel that the DPP has lost its contact with Taiwan's grass roots.

"The people who were on the side of the DPP in the labor movements of the past now feel that they are being left out and are only used as a means to wield power," said Chang Chao-hsiung, who is a representative of both the KMT and its offshoot People's First Party (PFP) in Kaohsiung.

"In the last decade, DPP has actually not done anything for marginalized groups but has instead shown how quickly it has drawn close to the rich. So these people have many grievances and disappointments toward them," Chang said.

Taiwan has been governed separately from the Chinese mainland since 1949, when the KMT fled to the island after losing a civil war to the Chinese Communists under Mao Zedong. The newly arrived KMT government and its entourage of mainland Chinese families were seen by many in Taiwan as the latest in a long line of foreign armies of occupation, causing a fault line between mainlanders and Taiwanese which is still visible today.#####

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