Opposition gains in Taiwan elections

HONG KONG - Support for Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party fell sharply in parliamentary elections at the weekend, with significant gains for the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), a result that will not please Peking, writes Teresa Poole.

The new parliament will for the first time have a second party with enough seats to initiate legislation and to be an important voting block. On Saturday, for the first time since 1948, all seats were up for election, and political analysts welcomed the results as laying the groundwork for parliamentary democracy on the island.

After an election campaign dominated by allegations of vote- buying and a party split over Taiwan's future relationship with China, the KMT emerged with just 53 per cent of the vote, its lowest level yet, down from 61 per cent in the 1989 partial general elections. However, the ruling party was always guaranteed a safe majority, because the DPP did not field a full slate of candidates; official KMT candidates won 96 seats in the new 161-seat parliament and will have the support of about seven independents.

The DPP took 31 per cent of the votes, which means that their seats rise from 18 to 50. Independents took a total of 15 seats.

The DPP ran on a 'One China, One Taiwan' platform, although it toned down the aggressively pro-independence stance adopted in last year's National Assembly elections, when its support fell to 23 per cent. This time it put more emphasis on fighting corruption and on social and welfare issues.

In Peking, where there is already fury at sales of jet fighters to Taiwan by the United States and France, the support for candidates advocating that Taiwan seek greater international recognition will be most unwelcome. 'They won't like it,' said Byron Weng, Professor of Government and Public Administration at the Chinese University in Hong Kong. 'In some (Peking) circles you may begin to observe a certain degree of mild siege mentality.'

Within the KMT, the battle lines are now drawn for a power struggle between the conservatives, who support the traditional 'One China' policy and the liberal Taiwanese mainstream, many of whose candidates lost out to those with clearer policies on the independence issue.