Former President Lee arrives home to rapturous welcome

The China Post staff

Former President Lee Teng-hui, upon his return from a U.S. visit yesterday, was greeted by hundreds of supporters in a campaign rally-like welcome that warmed up his political comeback and testified to his estrangement from the Kuomintang. Lee was lifted high up by supporters as he walked into the arrival lounge of the CKS airport packed with a huge crowd waving banners and Democratic Progressive Party flags to welcome back the ex-KMT head. “We must have confidence in Taiwan,” a high-spirited Lee told the cheering crowd. “We must fight to let Taiwan become better and better.” He was also greeted by over 100 political figures, including Presidential Secretary-General Chen Che-nan, Legislative Yuan Speaker Wang Jin-pyng and former Premier Vincent Siew. But Chairman Lien Chan and Secretary-General Lin Fong-cheng of the KMT, from which Lee has estranged himself, did not show up at the airport. The zealous welcome, in sharp contrast to his uneventful departure 10 days ago when few well-wishers saw him off, was meant to be a show of Lee’s unfading power, which he may need for a showdown with his own party in the year-end elections. Lee has recently pledged support for President Chen Shui-bian, and is said to be extracting his loyalists from the KMT form a new party in support of the DPP. “The new group will formally register with the Ministry of the Interior as a political party on July 31,” said Huang Chu-wen, a former interior minister who is Lee’s protege.

Huang said the new party’s immediate goal is to participate in the year-end legislative elections, whose outcome is expected to have a profound impact on Taiwan’s future political landscape.

According to Huang, the new party will not field any candidates for the elections for city mayors, county chiefs and seats in local assemblies.

Huang, a former KMT heavyweight, has been actively pushing for the formation of a new political group after the KMT suffered an embarrassing defeat in last year’s presidential election.

Huang said the new party’s name has yet to be decided. “Many founding members prefer to see the new party be called an alliance,” he said. “We have chosen a site to house our party headquarters which will concurrently be used as our campaign headquarters for the year-end elections,” Huang said.

According to Huang, the new party will nominate one or two candidates in each of the 21 cities and counties in Taiwan. “We plan to recommend more than 40 hopefuls to join the legislative elections,” a confident Huang said, adding that they expect to garner at least 20 percent of the vote so as to win three to eight at-large seats in the new Legislature.

The new party has no plan to field any candidate in the two frontline islands of Kinmen and Matsu, both of which lie closer to mainland China than to Taiwan.

Asked about Lee’s possible role in the new party, Huang said the ex-president has been concerned about Taiwan’s political stability after the island’s first-ever democratic transfer of power between different political parties in May 2000.

“Although Lee has publicly declared that he has no plan to form a new political group, he is still concerned about our domestic political stability,” said Huang, who is known to maintain close ties with Lee.