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Taiwan's Main Opposition Parties Announce Merger as Island Prepares President Chen's Inauguration - 2004-05-19

On the eve of the presidential inauguration, Taiwan's two main opposition parties have announced plans to merge after their defeat in still disputed elections.

Taiwan's Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang, said Wednesday it would join with its election-time ally, the People First Party, to form a united opposition.

Kuomintang Chairman Lien Chan made the announcement before cheering supporters, saying the plan passed his party's central committee unanimously.

The two parties joined forces for March's presidential election, with both backing Mr. Lien as their candidate.

He lost to the incumbent Chen Shui-bian by a narrow margin, and the two parties are contesting the results. Taiwan's High Court expected to issue a ruling soon on a vote recount.

Kuomintang spokesman Justin Chou says the planned merger with the PFP will provide a stronger, more organized opposition in time for December's legislative elections.

"I think the two [parties] organized together will have enough power to compete with the ruling party, and to supervise the current government," he said.

The two parties are to form a committee to discuss the details of the merger. PFP Vice Chairman Chang Chao-hsiung says the move might first take the form of a "trial marriage" before formally uniting.

The PFP split from the Kuomintang, when its chairman, former Kuomintang provincial Governor James Soong, decided to oppose Mr. Lien in the 2000 presidential race.

At the time, the PFP accused the Kuomintang of shady financial dealings and links to organized crime, charges some PFP members repeated after Wednesday's merger announcement.

Some local reports are predicting dissident PFP members may refuse to join a united opposition party.

But National Chengchi University political science professor Ho Szu-yin says opposition politicians concerned about the planned merger are less likely to leave and more likely to try to make changes from within.

"The very likely strategy they would take would be trying to raise their voices so that the merger could have their interests - being taken care of," he said.

He says even those PFP members most skeptical of the Kuomintang would not be willing to continue their political careers as independents - losing the powerful organizational advantages of party membership.

The Kuomintang ruled Taiwan since its independence from Japan in 1945, initially as a one-party dictatorship. In 2000, President Chen became Taiwan's first leader from outside the Kuomintang.