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2004-01-29 22:39:05

    Taipei, Jan. 29 (CNA) Referendum will be President Chen Shui-bian's chief appeal to voters in the 2004 presidential election, although its vote-gaining potential is not yet fully understood, according to Presidential chief of staff Chiu I-jen.

    In an interview carried in February's edition of Wealth Magazine monthly, Chen's leading strategist said any obvious positive effects of the referendum have not been seen as yet and that Chen is not pulling ahead of his political rival -- opposition Kuomintang (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan -- in opinion polls.

    The first question to be put to the referendum -- whether Taiwan should strengthen its anti-missile defenses should China refuse to withdraw its missiles targeting Taiwan -- is supposed to draw the United States' attention to Beijing's military threat against Taiwan and to alert the Taiwan people to Beijing's hostility toward them, according to Chiu.

    In addition, Chiu expressed hope that the publicity surrounding Taiwan's referendum will lead the international community to turn the heat on the mainland, whose hostility toward Taiwan has prompted the island to organize the referendum.

    The second question on the referendum -- whether the government should negotiate with Beijing over the establishment of a peaceful interaction framework -- covers many questions that might not be fully explained to the public or discussed because of the short period of time before the March 20 ballot-casting day, he went on.

    However, he admitted that the referendum issue might backfire if Washington pulls the plug on the plan before March 20 and this could frighten Taiwan's middle-class voters away from the president.

    Chen, who lagged far behind Lien and his running mate James Soong early last year, is closing to within 5 percent of the "pan blue alliance" pair in opinion polls, and this is quiet an achievement which bodes well for Chen's re-election attempt, Chiu said. Lien and Soong ran separately in the last election, taking nearly two-thirds of the vote between them.

    According to Chiu, Lien and Soong have "no way" of bringing international pressure to bear on Chen because the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) shares with Western democracies the universal values of democracy and freedom and can easily win their support.

    Beijing is not smart trying to meddle with Taiwan's presidential election through the United States, because Washington will not do exactly as Beijing wishes, and the mainland will have to pay dearly in return for Washington's favor, Chiu claimed.

    He predicted that Chen's re-election will bring a relatively calm period in Taiwan because, he claimed, Beijing will have to learn to get along and deal with the DPP government, while the opposition parties, especially the KMT, will have to settle for the fact that they have lost power and stop their obstruction of the DPP's rule.

(By Maubo Chang)


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