KMT chairman pledges reforms

The China Post staff

Kuomintang Chairman Lien Chan yesterday opened a two-day national congress by pledging party reforms, saying it is the only way to maintain a majority in the legislature in year-end elections. The embattled Lien, wearing a red headband emblazoned with the white-and blue national emblem, urged about 20,000 party members at a rally to put on a united front in the run-up to the December 1 parliamentary and mayoral elections.

“We need to restore the people’s confidence in the party to win the year-end elections. We need to be prepared to govern again,” Lien, who was routed in the 2000 presidential elections, told a packed stadium outside Taipei.

It was the Kuomintang’s first national congress after it lost the presidential election humiliatingly in March last year. The 16th congress, held once every four years, kicked off election campaigning.

“Get elected. Get elected,” the flag-waving crowd chanted in Taiwanese as election candidates marched up a stage to greet Lien.

Lien is struggling to prevent the Kuomintang from crumbling in the face of a growing threat from former president and party chairman Lee Teng hui, who last month stunned Nationalist faithful when he pledged support for incumbent President Chen Shui-bian.

Chen leads the rival pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

Lien vowed to “find the party’s (lost) soul” and “remold the party’s image.”

Media surveys show the Kuomintang trailing the DPP and the splinter People First Party in popularity.

The former vice president said the party must break away from black-gold politics – a legacy of Lee’s 12-year presidency – and must draw a clear line from those who seek to leverage ethnic and racial conflicts for their own interest. In an apparent reference to Lee, Lien urged the people to “jointly disdain those who create hostility among groups and political parties.” Furthering his admonition, Lien said he feels sorry to see the “insatiable politicians attempting to tear apart the society to serve their own interests.” Lee, the former chairman of Kuomintang, was not invited to the congress yesterday.

Not even a seat was reserved for the former president, who was believed to have backed a new political group, Taiwan Solidarity Union, that was formed earlier this month by politicians loyal to Lee.

The new political group plans to name its own candidates for the year-end elections.

Braving sweltering heat outside the stadium, a tiny group of anti-Lee party members demanded his expulsion.

“Expel Lee Teng-hui. Remove the poisonous tumor,” the protesters shouted.

The Kuomintang remains hesitant as to whether to act on the protesters demands to kick out Lee as it fears expulsion would trigger a new round of defections.

Also, Lee could still be of some use.

Lee has promised to extend support for a handful of Kuomintang legislative nominees in the run-up to the year-end elections, the China Times Express reported, quoting unidentified members at the new political group. The candidates could include Chen Horng-chi and Liu Hsien-tung. Former premier Lee Huan, a Kuomintang veteran, said Lee Teng-hui should offer to withdraw from the party. “A clean break with Lee Teng-hui will bode well for the party’s development,” said Lee Huan. But Liu Tai-ying, chairman of China Development Industrial Bank who is close to Lee Teng-hui and is a central commitee member, said expelling the former president is very impolite.