May 07, 2007

Taiwan: Ex-Premier Wins First Round of Primary

Ex-Premier Frank Hsieh has taken one step closer to becoming the Democratic Progressive Party's Presidential nominee, focusing on better relations with China.

Ex-Premier Frank Hsieh has taken one step closer to becoming the Democratic Progressive Party's Presidential nominee, focusing on better relations with China.

Below is an article published by USA Today:

TAIPEI, Taiwan — A former Taiwanese premier who has pushed for better relations with rival China was the surprise winner Sunday (06 May 2007) of the first phase of the ruling party's presidential primary vote.

The witty, sharp-tongued Frank Hsieh still needs to win a second round of voting to clinch his bid to be the Democratic Progressive Party's [DPP] candidate in next year's election. But Sunday's victory nearly guarantees him a place on the ticket.

His biggest rival, Premier Su Tseng-chang, dropped out the race after winning only 33% of the party's votes. Hsieh handily won with 44%, the party said, and two other candidates were far behind.

Hsieh, a feisty lawyer who defended political dissidents during the brutal martial law era that ended in 1987, briefly served as premier two years ago. When Taiwan held its first direct presidential election in 1996, he ran as the vice presidential candidate on the DPP ticket, which got trounced. He was mayor of Kaoshiung, the island's second-biggest city, from 1998-2005.

Many believe Hsieh might be more flexible and pragmatic with China than President Chen Shui-bian, who has been unable to forge a breakthrough in relations with Beijing during his eight years in office.

China is one of the most important campaign issues because the mainland is one of Taiwan's largest trading partners but also the island's biggest security threat. Beijing insists that Taiwan is part of China, but the self-ruled island has been resisting Communist rule for more than five decades.

When Hsieh was the Kaohsiung mayor, he pushed for exchanges with China. He also tried to make a historic trip as a cultural ambassador to the southern Chinese city of Xiamen. At the time, he would have been one of the island's most prominent elected leaders to go to the mainland since the Communists took over in 1949.

But Hsieh said he had to cancel the trip because he couldn't get the Taiwanese government's permission.

During his brief stint as premier, Hsieh pledged to seek "peace through talks and negotiation." He said he wanted to end bans on direct flights and shipping routes to the mainland.

Just days before Sunday's vote, the campaign was filled with venom, as Su accused Hsieh of corruption. Hsieh alleged that Su was waging a smear campaign. But after the vote, Hsieh said he would mend divisions.

"We've had verbal confrontations ... but those were inevitable during the process to cultivate a vision for the future," Hsieh said. "The end of the vote will be the beginning to forge party unity."

There were two other candidates in the race: DPP Chairman Yu Shyi-kun, who won 16% of the vote, and Vice President Annette Lu, who only got 7%.

Sunday's vote was only open to the 250,000 members of the DPP; a poll open to the general public will follow later this week.

The opposition Nationalist Party has named former Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou its presidential candidate. The Harvard-educated Ma is a favorite despite allegations of corrupt dealings during his mayorship.