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Decisive election win puts KMT back in power

ROC Central News Agency

2008-03-22 21:53:42

    Taipei, March 22 (CNA) The Kuomintang's presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou scored an impressive victory in Taiwan's presidential election on Saturday, completing a remarkable return to power for a party that was knocked out of the Presidential Office in 2000 and had been consistently dogged by its authoritarian past.

    Ma defeated his Democratic Progressive Party rival Frank Hsieh by 7,658,724 votes, or 58.45 percent, to 5,445,239 voters, or 41.55 percent, a margin that far exceeded even the KMT's internal polls which had it winning by around 1.3 million votes.

    The victory mirrored the party's lopsided victory in the Jan. 12 legislative elections in which it won 81 of 113 seats, with the DPP gaining only 27, and left the KMT with absolute control of Taiwan's executive and legislative branches of government.

    The DPP had tried to convince voters that a win by Ma would return Taiwan to its authoritarian past, when the KMT ruled the country with an iron fist, especially between 1949 and 1987 when Taiwan was under martial law.

    That argument, and Hsieh's otherwise negative campaign that focused almost exclusively on trying to discredit his rival, was resoundingly rejected by voters, with Ma picking up more votes than any other candidate in Taiwan's previous three direct presidential elections.

    President Chen Shui-bian garnered 6.47 million votes in 2004 in his narrow re-election victory over the KMT's Lien Chan.

    Many had expected a much closer race, with the DPP's internal polls and other private media polls in the last few days before the election showing Hsieh had narrowed the margin to within 5 percent. Polls cannot be made public during the final 10 days of Taiwan's elections.

    Prior to the election, many analysts believed that the battle for the Presidential Office would focus on central Taiwan, with the KMT expected to do well in northern Taiwan and the DPP favored to win by a big margin in the south.

    But Ma ran strong throughout the country, winning 20 of 25 counties and cities, and even holding his own in those that he lost.

    In Taipei, the city that he headed for eight years, Ma won 63 percent of just over 1.6 million votes, while Hsieh was unable to repeat the 41% share of the vote he garnered when running for mayor in the city in Dec. 2006.

    On the other hand, Hsieh was unable to capture Kaohsiung City, the city he governed for more than six years, winning 440,367 votes, or 48.41 percent of the vote, to Ma's 469,252 votes.

    Another race considered significant to the DPP's future if Hsieh were to lose was Taipei County, where Hsieh's running mate and former Taipei County magistrate Su Tseng-chang hoped to sparkle.

    The DPP ticket's performance there, however, was equally as disastrous as in Taipei City, with Ma earning 1,359,129 votes, or over 61 percent of the total, to Hsieh's 867,205.

    Hsieh said before the election he would drop out of politics if he lost, and Su was expected to be one of those who would vie to take over the reins of the party.

    The only administrative districts won by the DPP were Chiayi County, Tainan County, Pingtung County, Kaohsiung County and Yunlin County, all of which have DPP administrative leaders.

    But the battle in Taichung and Changhua counties that were expected to be decisive never materialized, with Ma winning the districts by 17 percent and 15 percent respectively.

    For the DPP, the defeat was a crushing repudiation of eight years of rule that began with such high hopes, but later lost the confidence of the electorate as the economy stuttered and corruption scandals plagued the administration.

    Hsieh tried to distance himself from the DPP's administrative performance, but was ultimately unsuccessful.

    Taiwan's voters also had a chance to vote in two referendums on the country's bid to join the United Nations.

    DPP politicians, and especially President Chen Shui-bian strongly pushed for passage of the referendums to deliver a message to China that Taiwan's people insisted on having their own place in the international community.

    The message became more strident in the days following China's bloody crackdown of protests by Buddhist monks on March 14.

    Both questions failed, however, to reach the 50 percent voter participation needed for them to be valid. Both the DPP-initiated version on whether Taiwan should join the U.N. using the name Taiwan and the KMT-initiated version, on whether Taiwan should apply for readmission to the U.N. using the name "Republic of China, " "Taiwan, " or any other dignified title had turnout of just under 36 percent.

    The DPP feared that China would publicize the results as an indication that Taiwan's people do not want independence from China, but in fact the apathy toward the polls were more a reflection of domestic politics.

    The KMT called for a boycott of the DPP-initiated referendum and provided little encouragement to its own supporters to vote on the KMT-initiated question.

    Some voters also saw the DPP question as a political ploy to help it win votes in the presidential poll, while others questioned the relevance of the initiatives that would have little bearing on whether Taiwan could enter the U.N. in the first place.

    Taiwan, as the Republic of China, lost its seat in the U.N. in 1971 to the People's Republic of China, and has made unsuccessful bids annually to rejoin the body since 1993.

(By Luke Sabatier)


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