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Taiwan Opposition Holds Congress Ahead of Important Election - 2001-07-29

Taiwan's largest opposition party, the Kuomintang, or KMT, opened its party congress Sunday ahead of a crucial year-end election for Taiwan's legislature. The event is designed to convey unity amid threats of a possible split.

The 16th congress comes at a crucial time for the KMT. Party chairman Lien Chan is trying to define a new role for the party, following last year's disastrous defeat in Taiwan's presidential election. Mr. Lien came in third, and the KMT was swept out of executive power after more than five decades of unchallenged rule in Taiwan.

In his opening address to the more than 2,000 delegates, Mr. Lien said the party must regain public confidence. He stressed that the party must reshape its image, tarnished by allegations of links to corruption and bribery.

He said the party was inclusive of Taiwan citizens from all backgrounds, and called on Taiwan voters to, "eschew all politicians espousing separatism and divisiveness."

This was an apparently reference to a new political group, the Taiwan Solidarity Union, which is courting some KMT legislative candidates.

Public opinion polls indicate that none of the political parties is likely to gain an absolute majority in the December election.

While Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party won last year's presidential elections and runs the executive branch of government, the KMT still commands a majority in Taiwan's legislature. It has worked with two other opposition parties to block key parts of President Chen's legislative agenda during his first year in office, and now must counter charges of obstructing the domestic political agenda.

The stated aim of the new group wooing KMT members is to gain a bloc of legislative votes that could give President Chen's party a working majority after the December legislative elections.

The party leadership is seeking to avoid any issues or motions that might serve as a pretext for the defection of party-nominated legislative candidates. Party heavyweights have remained low key about whether the founders of the new political group should be expelled from the KMT, instead stressing the theme of party unity.