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Taiwan Mayoral Election Gives President Political Boost - 2002-12-07

Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian's Democratic Progressive Party held off a bid to unseat its former chairman as mayor of Taiwan's second largest city, giving the president a political boost at a time when his personal popularity ratings are at all time lows.

President Chen Shui-bian campaigned hard for his Democratic Progressive Party's mayoral candidates in the capital city of Taipei and in Taiwan's second-largest city, the southern port of Kaohsiung. Mr. Chen was especially eager to head off a challenge in Kaohsiung to incumbent Mayor Frank Hsieh, a former chairman of the president's party.

Mr. Chen, who does not run for a second presidential term until 2004, harbored little hope of unseating Mayor Ma Ying-jeow of Taipei, who is a member of the opposition Kuomintang, or Nationalist Party. But the loss of Kaohsiung to a KMT candidate who was given no chance of winning only a few weeks ago would have been interpreted as a strong signal of voter discontent with the Chen Administration. Mr. Ma won a second term as mayor of Taipei with nearly 850,000 votes, or 64 percent. The race was far closer in Kaohsiung, where Mr. Hsieh retained office by only 25,000 votes over his KMT challenger.

Both results were relatively good news for Mr. Chen and his party. Although Mr. Ma held onto Taipei by a large margin, he received considerably fewer than his announced goal of one million votes. The smaller-than-anticipated margin of victory may indicate that Mr. Ma, a rising star in the KMT may well have to wait another four years before he is ready to seek the presidency. Retaining the Kaohsiung mayoralty is seen as an even more significant victory for the president. Mr. Hsieh headed the DPP until last August, when he turned over the reins to President Chen, and the DPP has invested a great deal of political capital in cultivating voter support in the South. However, Mr. Hsieh became embroiled in a funding scandal late in the campaign, which threatened to cost him votes.

An erosion of support in the South would have been especially worrying to the president, since he relied heavily on votes from Central and Southern Taiwan to win the presidency in 2000.