Asia-Pacific, Headlines

TAIWAN: Pro-independence Leader Sets Eyes on 2000 Election

Dennis Engbarth

TAIPEI, Oct 2 1998 (IPS) - “We will ensure that your sacrifice was not in vain,” reads the inscription on a memorial to the mother and twin daughters of dissident Lin I-hsiung, the new chairman of Taiwan’s pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

The gravestone, in Lin’s home county of Ilan in the north-east, marks a sacrifice for political ideals many find no less severe than that suffered by Korea’s Kim Dae Jung or South Africa’s Nelson Mandela.

But the man who passed through this test remains little known outside of Taiwan.

Former lawyer, assemblyman, political prisoner and environment activist, Lin, 57, won the first direct election for DPP party chair in June and took up his post starting August.

Little known outside the island, Lin may yet emerge as the DPP’s candidate in Taiwan’s second direct presidential poll in March 2000, to challenge the dominance of the Kuomintang or National Party of China.

The Kuomintang has ruled Taiwan since its forces fled the mainland after losing to the Communists in 1949. China, which treats Taiwan as a renegade province to be reunified with the motherland, bristles at pro-independence sentiment on the island.

Lin emerged as Taiwan’s foremost advocate of non-violent social reform in the nineties, years after what he says were politically- linked killings of his mother and daughters.

Lin was a leader of the “Tangwai” (non-party) democratic movement that in the 1970s challenged martial rule imposed by late strongman Chiang Kai-shek and his son Ching-kuo’s Kuomintang.

Son of an Ilan lumberjack, Lin had co-founded a free legal aid centre in Taipei in 1973 before idealism led to activism. “I was dissatisfied with the huge gap between the legal ideals of justice, equality and democracy with the actual society fostered by the KMT dictatorship,” he recalled.

Lin grew into an outspoken politician with a clean reputation after winning a seat in the Taiwan Provincial Assembly in elections in November 1977.

In mid-1979, he joined an effort to evade the martial law ban on new political parties through an opposition group around the monthly magazine ‘Formosa’. But Lin and seven other ‘Formosa’ leaders were arrested for sedition after a riot during a human rights rally in the southern city of Kaohsiung on Dec 10, 1979.

Just as the military trial was beginning, Lin’s mother and two of his three daughters were stabbed to death in their Taipei home on Feb 28, 1980, the anniversary of the Feb 28th uprising of 1947 in which more than 10,000 Taiwanese were slain by Chiang’s KMT troops. No arrests were ever made by the KMT government.

Authorities sent him back to jail and trial by military tribunal after a temporary release. Lin says the KMT sent him back to prison so he would not talk about the murders he believes were committed by its own security groups.

Lin served four years of a 14-year sentence before his release after an international campaign. “I had four years in jail to read and reflect about why I was jailed and why my innocent mother and seven-year-old twin daughters were killed when I had not committed any crime,” he recalled.

“My conclusion, which became the guide to my future activities, was that we had to end this dictatorship and reform the spirit of the Taiwanese people,” he added.

After burying his mother and two daughters on Jan 1, 1985, Lin took his wife and remaining daughter abroad. After earning a masters degree in public administration from Harvard, Lin returned to Taiwan in 1989, two years after the Kuomintang lifted martial law, and published two books on his new political views.

In an essay on a model basic law for a “Republic of Taiwan”, Lin outlined a democratic parliamentary system for an independent Taiwan. In ‘Tempering the Spirit’, he offered non-violent resistance as the path toward democracy and social progress.

Lin also gradually became active in the DPP, which had been founded in his absence in September 1986.

But Lin is far from uncritical about the his party, which outpolled the KMT for the first time ever in islandwide elections in November 1997. It won 12 of 23 mayoral posts — excluding the DPP’s mayorship of Taipei — with 43.5 percent of the 7.7 million votes compared to the KMT’s 42.1 percent.

“The most serious issue facing the DPP now is not how to take power, but how to ensure that it will remain aloof from the seductions of power and not disappoint the trust placed in it by the Taiwanese people,” said Lin.

Completion of Taiwan’s democratic reform and recognition of its national identity head Lin’s concerns. “Taiwan is democratic in form as its representative bodies are now all elected, but the KMT still controls Taiwan society through elections with its money and gang politics,” Lin pointed out.

“The most important issue we face is that the fact of Taiwan’s sovereignty and independence is not recognised by either China or the international community,” said Lin.

Thus, he says the “our most important task” to explain to the world and to leaders in China that Taiwanese will not accept mainland rule and that to force this “would harm both hopes for world peace and China itself”.

“The Taiwanese people worked very long to get the KMT to change its view and drop its insistence on ‘recovering the mainland’ from the Communists, and we need to make similar work, sacrifice and patience to get the PRC to change its old- fashioned notions of unification,” Lin explained.

But before the 2000 presidential poll, the DPP first faces a Dec 2 election for Taiwan’s 225-seat legislature and local posts in Taipei and Kaoshiung.

Lin conceded the DPP faces a “decisive challenge” ahead, but said: “Blocking the KMT from gaining a majority in the Legislative Yuan would mark a major change in Taiwan’s political ecology and end the KMT’s monopoly over the central government.”

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