- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 6, 2001

The solid victory in legislative and local elections on Saturday by Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is being hailed as another milestone in the island's long march from dictatorship to multiparty democracy.
James Lilley, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, called the undisputed free and fair elections a "ringing endorsement of the democratic process." But the emphasis on the gains for democracy tends to overshadow another achievement.
The party of Chen Shui-bien, president of the Republic of China (Taiwan), bested its three main rivals in the races for seats in the national legislature and local offices at a time when Taiwan was knee-deep in recession, called the worst in three decades.
Hisiao Bi-khim, a leading figure in the DPP, said on Monday that "this was achieved partly by saddling the opposition with the blame for thwarting President Chen's economic programs."
Representatives of all three leading parties flew into Washington from Taipei on Monday for an American Enterprise Institute discussion on the results and implications of the vote.
The Nationalist Party, which lost the presidency to Mr. Chen in 2000, had retained control of the legislature until now. Party spokesman Chi Su also noted that "the DPP was able to lay the blame for the downturn on us."
The crucial issue of Taiwan's relations with communist China, fiercely debated in the past as a choice between unification and independence, this year vanished from the political scope as all three major parties tended to converge in support of the status quo, which could be read as the deferral of both independence and unification.
China still demands that Taiwan accept the principle of one China, two systems, the model drawn up for the transfer of Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1997. It promises the coexistence of socialist and capitalist systems for 50 years.
But for this election, at least, Beijing mooted the issue as the rest of the world turned its attention to the war and politics of combating terrorism. Even the victory of a party created ostensibly to work for independence barely drew a dishonorable mention in the mainland press.
For Mr. Chen, success at the polls was his third major victory over the Nationalists, who had ruled unchallenged for five decades. In 1994, he beat the Nationalist candidate in the race for mayor of Taipei. Then, after losing to Nationalist candidate Ma Ying-jeou in his bid for re-election, he stunned the party with his 2000 presidential victory.
This year, he boosted the DPP strength in the 225-seat legislature, or Legislative Yuan, from 66 to 87 seats. Although the DPP failed to capture a clear majority, it was expected to form an alliance with the National Solidarity Union, a new party formed by former President Lee Teng-hui to further his independence ambitions.
The Nationalists' seats plummeted from 123 to 68. James Soong's People's First Party (PFP) came in third, with 46 seats. The remaining 24 seats went to minor parties.
PFP spokesman Raymond Wu said the party "showed that it is in the mainstream of Taiwan politics and pledged a grass-roots drive for more votes" in future elections.
The success of the PFP at the polls on Saturday contrasted with the political hemorrhaging of the Nationalists. There was speculation that the defeat spelled the end of the party as a political force.
But it does not appear that the party of World War II hero Chiang Kai-shek had run out of options. The victory of former foreign minister Jason Hu as mayor of Taichung pointed the road to a potential revival. Mr. Hu is one the brightest stars in Taiwan's political life. He conceivably could make a run for the presidency in 2004.
The biggest boost to a Nationalist Party comeback would come from a settling of differences between Mr. Soong and the Nationalists.

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