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Former Taiwan President Inaugurates New Political Party - 2001-08-12

Taiwan's former president, Lee Teng-hui, addressed a convention inaugurating Taiwan's newest political party Sunday. Lee's open backing of the new group is of major concern to Taiwan's established political parties vying for seats in the year-end legislative election.

Reports that Taiwan's former president, Lee Teng-hui, was unhappy with the partisan wrangling between the island's legislative and executive branches of government surfaced several months ago. However, his appearance at the founding convention of Taiwan's newest political party, the Taiwan Solidarity Union, confirmed his backing of 39 legislative candidates who will oppose those fielded by the Kuomintang, or KMT, the party he headed until its disastrous defeat in last year's presidential election.

In his speech, Mr. Lee criticized politicians who engage in what he called "pernicious partisan wrangling." He urged politicians and voters alike to set aside their differences.

Mr. Lee's backing of the new party poses difficulties for the KMT, which currently holds a majority in the legislature, but lost the presidency last year to the Democratic Progressive Party candidate, President Chen Shui-bian. The KMT had previously ruled unchallenged in Taiwan for more than five decades.

Opinion polls indicate that neither the KMT, nor President Chen's party is likely to win an outright majority in legislative elections in December. As a result, both parties will likely seek coalition partners to form a legislative majority. The nature of relations with Beijing is likely to be a key issue in determining how alliances are formed. And the new TSU party could be a comfortable fit for President Chen's Democratic Progressive Party.

Beijing is unlikely to view favorably Mr. Lee's backing of the new party. It objected strongly to a recent visit to Japan by the former Taiwanese president, and, so far, has refused to meet politicians in Taiwan whom Beijing views as favoring independence for the island. Beijing demands that Taipei accept the so-called "one China" policy before cross-strait talks can resume.

President Lee stressed in his remarks that voters would identify with "nativization," a term that connotes an emphasis on Taiwan interests, Taiwan culture and Taiwan heritage.