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DPP victory poses dilemma for Beijing

Frank Hsieh
DPP chairman Frank Hsieh celebrates election victory  

By Willy Wo-Lap Lam
Senior China Analyst

(CNN) -- The victory of Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in Saturday's polls has presented Beijing with a dilemma.

Whether the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership will now agree to talk to the pro-independence DPP will tell much about the future of cross-Taiwan Strait relations.

With 87 seats in the new Legislative Yuan, the DPP has become Taiwan's largest party -- and the hand of President Chen Shui-bian has been considerably strengthened.

Moreover, the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU), a DPP ally that was newly set up by former president Lee Teng-hui, also picked up 13 seats.

By contrast, the Kuomintang (KMT), the former ruling party, garnered merely 68 positions -- and lost its parliamentary majority for the first time ever.

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KMT politicians, some of whom have visited the mainland the past year, have supported "eventual" reunification with China.

Beijing is not expected to come up with an immediate reaction to the stunning results.

On Saturday night, the official China News Service merely ran a terse dispatch listing the electoral tallies. Political sources in Beijing said the administration of President Jiang Zemin had blamed the DPP for "misleading" Taiwan residents through exploiting their ignorance and fears about the mainland.

Since Chen was elected president in March 2000, Beijing has consistently refused to have anything to do with his DPP administration.

The sources said there was opposition in Beijing to opening up a dialogue with Chen because this would be tantamount to giving the pro-independence politician and the DPP some form of recognition.

They said Beijing would, at least at the rhetorical level, continue to support the KMT and the People's First Party (PFP), which did surprisingly well by gaining 46 legislative seats.

Moreover, hard-line elements such as generals of the People's Liberation Army might start arguing that Beijing needed to use tougher tactics against the "splittist" forces, who had continued to do well at the polls despite a biting economic recession.

For instance, southern Taiwan, which is hardest hit by unemployment and other woes, has remained solid supporters of the DPP and TSU.

Other analysts have pointed out, however, that the DPP's electoral triumph might open up the possibility of a dialogue with the CCP.

Stanford University China expert Ming Chan said given Chen's victory at the polls, "Beijing may not be able to afford to continue snubbing Chen and the DPP."

"Beijing's strategy has been to ignore Chen until the next presidential election in 2004, when, it hopes, a KMT or PFP candidate will win," Chan added. "Now the chances of Chen getting re-elected in 2004 seem higher."

New authority

Chan said another positive development for mainland-Taiwan ties was that with his new authority, Chen would be able to sideline the more radical groups within his own party.

Immediately after the elections, Chen and Premier Chang Chun-hsiung offered an olive branch to their opponents by saying all parties should work together to form a non-partisan "National Stability Alliance" administration.

Political analysts said, however, that Chen and his ally, former president Lee, may soon start persuading friendly KMT legislators -- especially native Taiwanese among them -- to in effect defect to the DPP camp.

Despite its better-than-expected performance, the DPP-TSU alliance still requires 13 seats to form a majority in the 225-member legislature.

Meanwhile, hardly had the counting of the ballots ended than major political figures started plotting for the future -- and the crucial presidential polls of 2004.

Implosion feared

With the KMT's humiliating defeat, it is almost certain that its chairman, former vice-president Lien Chan, might be retiring soon.

Some KMT critics even say the former ruling party may implode with its heavyweight politicians joining either the DDP or the PFP, which used to be one faction within the former ruling party.

Loyal KMT supporters are pinning their hopes on the charismatic Mayor of Taipei, Ma Ying-jeou, who will most likely be the KMT presidential candidate in 2004.

However, the KMT's only chance of returning to power lies in close cooperation with the PFP, whose popular chairman James Soong lost the presidential race to Chen last year by a small margin.

If Soong and Ma fail to work together, the non-DPP votes will be split -- and victory will once again be handed the savvy Chen.

A week or so before Saturday's elections, Chen had sought to pre-empt a KMT-PFP alliance by reportedly offering Soong a substantial portfolio -- some even say the premiership -- in the administration to be formed in a month or so.


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