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Ma wins his last-minute gamble

Kuomintang chairman Ma Ying-jeou had gambled big. He won yesterday.

One day before the 2005 local elections were to take place, Ma promised to step down as Kuomintang chairman, if his party should fail to win half of the 21 cities and counties at stake in Taiwan.

They did not include the two offshore island counties of Kinmen and Matsu. Ma bet his political life on the lucky outcome of what is known as the "three-in-one" election of local governments for his party.

That kicked off a last-minute Kuomintang drive to "save the chairman."

The big gamble was won big. The Kuomintang won 14 cities and counties under the jurisdiction of Taiwan province, that exists only in name.

Among the 14 were the city of Chiayi and the counties of Ilan and Taipei, three prizes added to the minimum of 11 Ma had staked his Kuomintang chairmanship on.

Two of the three, Chiayi and Ilan, were won for the first time. The county of Taipei, Taiwan's most populous, was recovered after 16 years under Democratic Progressive Party rule.

At a victory party, Ma thanked the electorate for support that has helped Kuomintang candidates survive the vicious negative campaign.

"It was a vote of no confidence against the government party," Ma said. The government has been involved in scandal after shocking scandal over the past two years.

He regretted the elections were "not clean." Character assassination, false charges, vote-buying and other irregularities made the "three-in-one" election the worst in history.

"Elections are over," Ma said. "We celebrate our victory tonight," he went on, "and starting tomorrow we will redouble our efforts to make (local) governments clean and efficient." Chiayi City, the citadel of the independent Hsu Shih-hsien clan, was won after its leader, former minister of the interior Chang Po-ya, had withdrawn support for the incumbent DPP mayor.

The late Hsu Shih-hsien, Chang's mother, built the unbeatable power base in the city of Chiayi through her life-long help to the people in need of medical care.

Chen Li-cheng, the incumbent mayor, used to be Chang's secretary. She was elected as an independent but later joined the ruling party.

Ilan has never been under Kuomintang control. Chen Ding-nan, a former mayor of two terms, tried to make a comeback in vain, despite the all-out effort of support by Yu Shyi-kun, secretary-general to President Chen Shui-bian.

Yu, magistrate of Ilan from 1989 to 1997, was prime minister for two years until last February.

In the county of Taipei, the Kuomintang won an overwhelming upset.

Chou Hsi-wei, the Kuomintang candidate, is a mainlander. His DPP rival Luo Wen-jia is President Chen's protege, a Hakka married to a mainlander.

In 1989, Yu Ching won the magistracy of Taipei for the DPP. He served two terms, and Su Tseng-chang, who had moved from his native county of Pingtung, succeeded him in 1997, defeating Wang Chien-hsuan, a former Kuomintang finance minister, thanks to sympathy votes a dying DPP lawmaker knelt before voters to beg for.

Lu Hsiu-yi, the legislator, died shortly after Su's election. Reelected in 2001, Su was appointed presidential secretary two years later. He was elected DPP chairman in last February.

Other upset victories came in the counties of Nantou and Changhua, both in central Taiwan.

Lin Tsung-nan, the incumbent magistrate of Nantou, lost the DPP primary and ran as an independent against Tsai Huang-liang and Li Chao-ching.

Tsai, the DPP nominee, lost because the votes for the governing party were split. Li, the Kuomintang candidate, won.

Chuo Po-yuan, the Kuomintang candidate, scored the other victory over Weng Chin-shu, the incumbent magistrate of Changhua.

One more unexpected victory was won by Liu Cheng-hung, the Kuomintang nominee for magistrate of Miaoli. The Hakka county in central Taiwan has never elected a Hoklo magistrate, though it has always voted for Kuomintang candidates.

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