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Cablegate: Presidential Election in Southern Taiwan: Dpp, Kmt See

VZCZCXRO1249
OO RUEHCN RUEHGH
DE RUEHIN #0406/01 0811019
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 211019Z MAR 08
FM AIT TAIPEI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8485
INFO RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 8038
RUEHGH/AMCONSUL SHANGHAI 1918
RUEHCN/AMCONSUL CHENGDU 2543
RUEHSH/AMCONSUL SHENYANG 6513
RUEHGZ/AMCONSUL GUANGZHOU 1103
RUEHHK/AMCONSUL HONG KONG 9294

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 TAIPEI 000406

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPT FOR AIT/W, EAP/TC, INR/EAP

FROM AIT KAOHSIUNG BRANCH OFFICE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV TW
SUBJECT: PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION IN SOUTHERN TAIWAN: DPP, KMT SEE
CLOSE FIGHT IN TAINAN

REF: Taipei 00371

SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED, PLEASE PROTECT ACCORDINGLY

1. (SBU) Summary: In separate March 19 meetings with Director
Young, Tainan City Mayor Hsu Tien-Tsair highlighted the DPP's big
local advantage, while the city's KMT chair Cheng Ching-Jen claimed
growing enthusiasm for Ma Ying-Jeou. Hsu acknowledged voters'
unhappiness with President Chen but suggested Hsieh would actually
best Ma at ending the Chen era. In contrast to Hsu's dismissal of
Ma's recent Tainan campaign stops, Cheng stressed that Ma's "long
stay" visits impressed local voters. Both Hsu and Cheng
acknowledged that neither party was pushing the UN referenda
strongly, although Hsu worried about implications of the referenda
failing. With Tainan City a must win for Hsieh, Hsu has been
campaigning all out, using Hsieh's latest attack lines to good
effect throughout the Tainan area. End Summary.

2. (SBU) During his March 19 trip to southern Taiwan to discuss
Taiwan's Presidential election, Director Young met separately with
Tainan City Mayor Hsu Tien-Tsair and KMT Tainan City Chair Cheng
Ching-Jen. Tainan City, a pan-Green stronghold, overwhelmingly
supported President Chen in 2000 and 2004 and delivered both of its
Legislative Yuan seats to the DPP in January 2008 elections. Hsu,
who credits Chen for helping him win Tainan City's 2002 mayoral
race, spent ten years studying in the U.S. and presides over a
strong local economy. Cheng, a veteran KMT official, recently took
over as Tainan City KMT chair to try to reverse the KMT's local
fortunes.

DPP's Hsu: Greens Holding Steady in Tainan
------------------------------------------

3. (SBU) Describing the DPP's Tainan City electoral advantage,
Mayor Hsu estimated the DPP's local support at 55 percent versus the
KMT's 45 percent. In his 2007 re-election, Hsu noted, he beat his
KMT opponent by 60 to 40 percent. For the 2008 Presidential
election, the DPP hoped for 57 percent in Tainan City (Chen's 2004
mark), but 60 percent or even 64 percent (about an 80,000-vote
margin) was not out of reach. Given the city's robust economy and
low unemployment, Hsu was bullish about the DPP's local prospects.

4. (SBU) Hsu highlighted three reasons for the DPP's January 2008
Legislative Yuan election setback: opposition to President Chen,
Chen's indiscrete statements, and a sluggish economy island wide.
He explained that the weak economy actually began in 1993, well
before Chen, and that thanks to local initiatives like the Tainan
Science-Based Industrial Park, Tainan's economy suffered less.
Furthermore, if voters really wanted to end the Chen era, they
should vote for Hsieh, who could marginalize Chen's subsequent
influence.

5. (SBU) Hsu agreed with Director's observation that Hsieh would
find it difficult trying to distance himself from Chen. Hsieh had
no other choice, Hsu explained, since voters were dissatisfied with
Chen. Nevertheless, Hsu insisted, voters had not given up on the
DPP. Therefore, Hsieh would let Chen continue campaigning so Chen
could save face and consolidate deep Greens, but he would not let
Chen make any speeches to minimize any chance of further
controversy.

6. (SBU) Hsu commended Hsieh's strategy focusing on one-party
dominance, the one-China market, and the credibility of Ma and
Siew's statements ("whatever they say is nonsense" - "yi pai hu
yan"). The one-party issue would remind voters of the KMT's
traditional arrogance; the one-China market controversy would prompt
professionals, worried about future job prospects, to desert Ma; and
Ma's clumsy handling of his green-card matter would cause voters to
question his credibility.

7. (SBU) Commenting on Ma's campaign visits to Tainan, Hsu scoffed
that Ma had been to Tainan so many times, he had lost count. The
visits were too short for Ma to establish any grass-roots
relationships. He dismissed the highly publicized defection of Wang
Chang-Kun, chairman of Tainan City's Doctors' Association, from
pan-Green to pan-Blue. Wang's endorsement may help KMT propaganda
outside of Tainan, he stated, but Tainan citizens knew that Wang had
little local influence.

8. (SBU) On the UN referendum, Hsu commented that few party

TAIPEI 00000406 002 OF 002


leaders, save Chen, were promoting it aggressively. Without the
push, the referendum was unlikely to pass. Hsu said Hsieh was aware
of the international community's concerns and planned to set the
matter aside. Nevertheless, Hsu complained, China continued to
restrict Taiwan's international space. If the referendum failed,
the international community would take Taiwan's predicament less
seriously.

KMT's Cheng: Focus on Ma and DPP Dirty Tricks
--------------------------------------------- -

9. (SBU) Tainan City KMT Chair Cheng Ching-Jen believed that during
the last four years, the gap between the KMT and DPP in Tainan had
narrowed. While President Chen won Tainan City handily in 2004, the
pan-Blue in 2008 lost the Legislative Yuan election party tally by
only 12,000 votes and the district tally by just 7,000 votes. For
the 2008 Presidential election, he hoped the KMT could secure up to
48 percent of the city's vote by capitalizing on voters' desire for
change. The sluggish economy was the KMT's best issue locally, he
underscored, noting that even in Tainan City, Mayor Hsu had amassed
a 31 billion Taiwan dollar (one billion USD) debt.

10. (SBU) Cheng applauded the success of the KMT's March 16 Tainan
City rally. Large numbers of young people were among the estimated
30,000 KMT supporters participating, he noted, a shift from 2004.
By contrast, the DPP's March 15 Tainan rally was sparsely attended,
he claimed, and the DPP's follow-on rally on March 16 lacked the
passion of the DPP's 2004 effort. Cheng praised Ma for visiting
Tainan City frequently following the January LY elections.
According to Cheng, Ma's personal touch, sincerity and simplicity
impressed local voters and boosted local campaign morale.

11. (SBU) Noting that Hsieh had no local connection with Tainan
City, Cheng suggested that President Chen's local popularity would
not transfer to Hsieh. He dismissed Hsieh's attack on one-Party
dominance, mentioning that in the U.S., one party frequently held
both executive and legislative power. He defended KMT legislators'
behavior at the DPP's Taipei Headquarters, explaining that
legislators had the right to investigate financial irregularities.
He commented that the UN referendum would not hinder the KMT's
campaign efforts. While the KMT supported its own version of the
referendum, it did not have the time or energy to promote it
actively. All focus was on the Presidential election.

12. (SBU) Confident of Ma's victory island wide, Cheng highlighted
KMT concern over possible last-minute DPP "dirty tricks." For
example, Cheng feared Hsieh might take to the airwaves on election
eve pretending to brandish Ma's green card. Unlike 2004 (after the
Chen shooting incident), the KMT was prepared to respond quickly.
In Tainan, three-wheeled vehicles broadcasting KMT counterattacks
were ready to deploy throughout the city at a moment's notice. To
maintain momentum, the KMT planned to hold a large Tainan City
election eve parade.

Comment
-------

13. (SBU) Barring a major upset, Hsieh will win Tainan City.
President Chen, neighboring Tainan County's native son, still
captures deep-Green hearts throughout the Tainan area.
Nevertheless, even strong Chen backers in the south, like Mayor Hsu,
frankly acknowledge Chen's drag on the national ticket. With
Kaohsiung City and Kaohsiung County still tight, a big Hsieh win in
Tainan is a must. Mayor Hsu in particular has gone all out for
Hsieh, using the one-party dominance theme to good effect in urban
Tainan, while his surrogates stress the one-China market issue in
outlying Tainan County's agricultural areas. However, local KMT
contacts think the KMT's successful March 16 rally showed surprising
strength for Ma in the city; if Ma can narrow his gap with Hsieh in
Tainan on election night, they believe, Hsieh is likely to struggle
in other key southern battlegrounds.

CASTRO

YOUNG

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