The ruling Kuomintang maintained its commanding position over the island's government in elections here Saturday, but a newly formed political party that challenged Taiwan's connection to the Chinese mainland attracted surprisingly strong support from the voters.
With 95% of the vote reported, the new Democratic Progressive Party, whose platform called for "self-determination" of Taiwan's future by its residents, was winning 24 of the 44 seats for which it campaigned in the Legislative Yuan and the National Assembly.
Democratic Progressive candidates were among the top vote getters in Taiwan's two largest cities, Taipei and Kaohsiung.
This was the first time the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) had ever run against a Taiwan-based opposition party since Chiang Kai-shek fled here from the Chinese mainland in 1949. The Kuomintang regime still considers itself to be the legitimate government for all of China.
Move Called Stalking Horse
About 85% of Taiwan's 19 million inhabitants are native Taiwanese. The remaining 15% are "mainlanders" who either came here after the Chinese civil war or are the children of Chinese who did. The Kuomintang and the Communist regime in Peking, which also considers Taiwan to be a province of China, both had attacked the Democratic Progressives' calls for self-determination, suggesting that idea might be a stalking-horse for a Taiwan independence movement.
The Democratic Progressives were allowed to campaign in this year's election after President Chiang Ching-kuo, son of Chiang Kai-shek, announced plans to move the island toward democracy.
The Kuomintang fielded 193 legislative candidates, more than four times as many as the Democratic Progressives, and with 95% of the vote counted, 127 Kuomintang candidates were winning their seats. Kuomintang and government officials had predicted that the ruling party would win about 70% of the popular vote, about the same as it has in past elections. Figures released early today, however, indicated that the Kuomintang's vote total dropped to below 65% this year.
Vote Totals Surpassed
In several locations prominent Democratic Progressives were not only winning office but equaling or surpassing the votes polled by the ruling party.
In Taipei, Democratic Progressive Kang Ning-hsiang, one of the best-known opponents of the Kuomintang, won office by winning the second-highest vote total among 16 candidates in the field. Democratic Progressive candidates came in first, outpolling all candidates from the ruling party, in Kaohsiung city and Taipei county.
In Taoyuan county, where Taiwan's international airport is located, Hsu Kuo-tai, brother of exiled Taiwan dissident Hsu Hsin-liang, also won a seat in the legislature and rolled up a large margin over Kuomintang opponents.
Actual control of the government is never at stake in elections held on Taiwan.
Under the existing system, the Kuomintang is guaranteed continuing control of national legislative bodies, because most seats are held by "veteran" Kuomintang members who represent districts on the Chinese mainland. Although these veterans have not run for election since 1947, they have been allowed to remain in office on grounds that new elections cannot be held while China itself is under Communist control.
In the Legislative Yuan, the government's principal law-making body or Parliament, 231 of the 323 seats are currently held by mainlanders who last faced the voters in 1947. Similarly, in the National Assembly, the government's version of an Electoral College, 900 of the 976 members are veterans representing mainland districts.
Over the past few months, both the Kuomintang and its political opponents had taken dramatic new steps, apparently in hopes of gaining an advantage in this year's elections.
In late September, the opposition--known here as the tangwai, the Chinese word for "outside the party"--suddenly announced that it was forming a new political party, the Democratic Progressives. Technically, that action was illegal, because Taiwan law forbids any political parties except the Kuomintang and two fringe organizations that came with it to Taiwan from the Chinese mainland in 1949.
President Chiang persuaded the Kuomintang Central Committee in mid-October to approve plans to lift martial law that has been in effect since 1949 and to permit the formation of new political parties. These changes have not yet actually been put into effect, but the Democratic Progressives were allowed to function as a de facto party during this fall's elections.
Controversy Over Dissident
The final week of the campaign was dominated by controversy over the unsuccessful efforts of dissident Hsu Hsin-liang, to fly back to Taiwan from the United States, where he holds political asylum.
Hsu, 45, publisher of the Taiwan Times of Alhambra, Calif., has lived in the Los Angeles area for the past seven years. He faces sedition charges in Taiwan, stemming from his alleged role in instigating an anti-government riot in Kaohsiung in 1979.
For much of the past year, Hsu has been traveling through the United States, announcing his intention to return to Taiwan.
A week ago, Hsu tried to board a flight from Tokyo to Taiwan, but he and several supporters were kept from boarding the plane by airline officials, acting at the request of the Taiwan government.
Thousands of demonstrators had gathered at Taipei's international airport to greet Hsu's flight, and the clashes between the demonstrators and Taiwan police touched off the most serious political violence in Taiwan since the 1979 Kaohsiung incident.
Hsu's attempt to return home and the airport violence galvanized the more radical opponents of the Nationalist regime. On an island where copying is virtually a way of life, videotapes of the airport riot were quickly reproduced and shipped to Democratic Progressive campaign offices. The tapes were played on street corners to attract crowds and were also sold for more than $10 apiece to raise campaign money.
Some Democratic Progressive supporters said they feared Hsu's attempt to return had harmed the new party's chances in the elections by diverting energy away from the campaign and by exacerbating tensions between radical and moderate factions within the party.