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Taiwan Vote Widens Rift in Ruling Party Over Ties to China

TAIWAN'S voters dealt an embarrassing setback to the ruling party and its dream of a reunified China in a weekend election that launched a new era of two-party politics.

The Nationalist Party or Kuomintang (KMT), which has monopolized political and economic power in Taiwan since being forced from the communist mainland four decades ago, held its solid legislative majority Saturday. But its main foe, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), made a surprising political surge, doubling its seats in the 161-member Legislative Yuan to 50 against the KMT's 96. The DPP remains committed to Taiwanese independence from mainland China, despite softening its strident rhetoric during

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the campaign.

KMT hard-liners oppose independence because they refuse to accept the Communist victory on the mainland in 1949.

For the first time in Taiwan's transition from authoritarian politics to democracy, all 125 elected legislators were chosen by voters. Another 36 at-large seats are awarded to parties based on their share of the popular vote.

An enthusiastic 70 percent of the island's 13 million voters turned out after a raucous campaign dominated by local issues and anger over vote-buying. Such corruption issues led to a backlash against the KMT status quo, analysts say.

"Local issues were translated into `us versus the mainlanders,'" says Thomas Bellows, a political scientist from the University of Texas at San Antonio and one of several foreign observers at the election. "There was a lot of anger and hostility because of scandals. So they blamed the intruders."

The outcome will likely redefine Taiwan's power equation domestically and its relations with China, analysts say. The election sharpened Taiwanese resentment against the dominance of mainlanders, promising a confrontational atmosphere in the new polarized legislature.

Businessmen also took advantage of KMT disarray, plunging into politics for the first time and garnering 30 seats in the new legislature. Analysts say business involvement made the election Taiwan's most expensive ever and raises worries that tycoon-legislators will deepen the influence of big money in Taiwanese politics.

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The fractured KMT will face more defiance from members disillusioned with the party's corruption and its long-standing commitment to reunifying Taiwan with the mainland, political observers predict. Emerging for the first time was a KMT faction of native-born candidates who want Taiwan to remain a separate entity from mainland China.

Mainland communist leaders in Beijing have watched closely as a boisterous democratic and separatist sentiment has thrived across the strait. Beijing leaders, who share the KMT's goal of unification, is concerned that KMT dissidents could splinter the party and ally with reunification opponents, analysts say.

"This kind of power struggle could become a big problem for Taiwan," says Bertrand Tsai, a political scientist at National Taiwan University. "The problems within the ruling party will affect and could even jeopardize the future of Taiwan."

Taiwan's new political order is expected to face its first major test next year in deciding the future of Premier Hau Pei-tsun, a mainland politician who the opposition and KMT liberals say should resign.

Mr. Hau, an adamant foe of independence, could be forced out if President Lee Teng-hui, a Taiwanese moderate, comes under pressure from the pro-independence faction.

The party's internal row will come to a head next year when the KMT holds its 14th party congress and chooses a new leadership slate for the central committee.

With the support of liberals, Mr. Lee may push for direct elections when the present presidential term ends in 1996.

"The KMT is still in control of the political process," says a Taiwanese political observer. "But now we have the phenomenon of a Taiwanese KMT versus a Chinese KMT."

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