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Cablegate: Southern Taiwan: Kaohsiung Mayor Struggles Amidst the Dpp's

VZCZCXRO1763
PP RUEHCN RUEHGH
DE RUEHIN #0602/01 1210951
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 300951Z APR 08
FM AIT TAIPEI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8810
INFO RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 8224
RUEHGH/AMCONSUL SHANGHAI 2034
RUEHCN/AMCONSUL CHENGDU 2647
RUEHSH/AMCONSUL SHENYANG 6615
RUEHGZ/AMCONSUL GUANGZHOU 1217
RUEHHK/AMCONSUL HONG KONG 9465

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 TAIPEI 000602

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: SOUTHERN TAIWAN: KAOHSIUNG MAYOR STRUGGLES AMIDST THE DPP'S
SAGGING FORTUNES


SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED, PLEASE PROTECT ACCORDINGLY

1. (SBU) Summary: In a late-April meeting with PO, DPP Kaohsiung
Mayor Chen Chu expressed her intent to welcome KMT President-elect
Ma and his inaugural entourage to the city on May 20 but worried
about blowback from her own deep-Green core constituency. Chen
maintained that a biased media and the DPP's own missteps had led to
the party's electoral demise but noted that the crushing defeat
would at least force the DPP to undertake fundamental reform. She
promoted Tsai Ying-wen's party chair candidacy over the traditional
old guard bets, explaining that Tsai was the DPP's best hope to jump
start the type of party modernization that would attract a new
generation of DPP voters. Faced with an energized KMT-led City
Council, Chen underscored her determination to maintain her current
course in the city. Local DPP insiders worry, however, that Chen's
health maladies and a dysfunctional local party will cripple the
DPP's chances to hold on to this key mayoral seat in 2010. End
Summary.

Back Home: Tough Times for Chen Chu
-----------------------------------

2. (SBU) PO on April 21 paid a courtesy call on Kaohsiung Mayor
Chen Chu (DPP). Chen had just returned from a whirlwind Europe
trade promotion tour, where she engaged audiences in London and
Paris on local business opportunities and Taiwan identity questions.
Still showing after-effects of a stroke suffered late last year,
Chen returned to Kaohsiung to face a host of challenges, including a
rambunctious KMT-led City Council, a listless economy, local DPP
factional struggles and grass-roots opposition to several pet
large-scale building projects.

3. (SBU) Since late November, when Chen finally beat back legal
efforts to nullify her 2006 mayoral election, her political fortunes
have been slipping. Although she devoted considerable time to the
DPP's local campaign efforts, the KMT still captured three of five
Kaohsiung seats in January 2008 Legislative Yuan (LY) elections,
while Ma Ying-jeou unexpectedly beat former Kaohsiung mayor Frank
Hsieh in the city in the March 2008 Presidential election. Ma
scored new political points when he announced that his May 20
inauguration day dinner would take place in Kaohsiung. Chen intends
to welcome Ma cordially to highlight the city, but some of her local
DPP colleagues are grumbling that an unchallenged spotlight on Ma
will further undercut the DPP's local standing.

Ma's Banquet: The Mayor's Difficult Political Balance
--------------------------------------------- ---------

4. (SBU) In her meeting with PO, Mayor Chen suggested that Ma's
decision to hold his inauguration day dinner in Kaohsiung was
politically motivated but acknowledged that the event would benefit
the city. Aware that some deep-Green supporters planned to
"welcome" Ma with noisy protests, Chen stated that citizens had the
right to voice their discontent peacefully in a free society; she
hoped, however, that the protests would not disrupt Ma's visit and
tarnish the city's reputation.

5. (SBU) Chen commented that she was prepared to adjust to
political life under a KMT central government. She applauded Ma's
promises to boost southern Taiwan's economic development and
signaled her intention to press Ma to fulfill his campaign pledges
to the city. She hoped to put partisan differences aside with the
ruling party in deference to the city's interests but pointed out
that the political balance in her own City Council was combustible,
with the KMT controlling about one third of the seats, the DPP
holding another third, and independent parties with the rest.

Election Defeat: Time to Jump Start Party Reform
--------------------------------------------- ----

6. (SBU) Lamenting Frank Hsieh's Presidential election defeat in
his old Kaohsiung City constituency, Chen commented that pro-KMT
media, DPP factional struggles, corruption scandals and a lagging
economy were too much for Hsieh to overcome. The opening of
Kaohsiung's metro system was positive overall for Hsieh's campaign,
she explained, but it also reminded voters of metro-related
corruption scandals during Hsieh's mayoral tenure. Hsieh's campaign
seemed to rally somewhat in the final stages, but it lacked the
passion of President Chen's 2000 and 2004 races.


TAIPEI 00000602 002 OF 003


7. (SBU) Now the DPP was back to where it was eight years ago, she
remarked, and would need to reassume its watchdog role to ensure
that the KMT did not regress back into its old authoritarian habits.
Furthermore, the DPP's electoral setback gave the party a chance to
reform. Reflecting on reasons for the DPP's defeat, Chen suggested
that the party first recast its media image. Second, it should take
aggressive steps to cleanup party corruption. Third, it should
re-focus party factions away from personalities and towards issues
in order to encourage party leaders to put national interests over
personal or factional interests.

Tsai as Chair: An Infusion of Young Blood

SIPDIS
-----------------------------------------

8. (SBU) Chen commented that in the coming years, the DPP would
have to regain the voters' trust in its ability to govern. An
important part of this effort, she emphasized, was choosing the
right Party chair. Several of the announced candidates were too old
and extreme in their views and should step aside in favor of the
younger generation. The ideal candidate, she said, was Tsai
Ying-wen. Tsai was young, reform oriented, non-ideological, and
even tempered. With Tsai as leader, the party could formulate more
appealing policies and attract younger members.

9. (SBU) Noting that young voters had switched to the KMT in large
numbers in the March 22 Presidential election, Chen acknowledged the
DPP government's failure to connect with the younger generation.
For young voters, she explained, allegations of DPP corruption put
the DPP on a par with the KMT and made those voters forget that the
KMT's past corruption was on a much larger scale. She applauded DPP
acting Chairman Hsieh's effort to recruit younger party members,
elaborating that younger members would help weed out "bad" factions
and boost factions that held higher ideals.

City Governance: Need to Stay the Course
----------------------------------------

10. (SBU) Asked how the DPP's electoral defeats and local voter
disenchantment with the DPP would affect her governing style, Chen
replied that she would stick with her current course. The DPP's
emphasis in Kaohsiung on urban beautification, environmental
protection, cultural promotion, transportation improvements and
careful economic development had distinguished it from the KMT.
Although some traditional local industries had moved to China, she
hoped her approach to city development would gradually lure some of
them back. Central government support was essential. Contrasting
successful science parks throughout northern Taiwan with Kaohsiung's
less robust versions, Chen maintained that none of those northern
Taiwan projects would have succeeded without strong central
government backing.

11. (SBU) Chen decried KMT opposition to several of her key urban
development projects, adding that some local KMT city councilors
were only concerned about whether the projects would benefit their
districts. For example, she stated, one KMT lawmaker blocked her
plan to place a multi-million dollar "Pop-Music Center" in a harbo
location already designated for redevelopment because it would not
be located in his constituency. She also regretted KMT foot
dragging on her proposal to build a light-rail system in the city to
complement Kaohsiung's emerging subway network. If KMT city
councilors continued to obstruct her plans, she would appeal
directly to the central government and even make use of public
referenda to break the impasse.

Comment
-------

12. (SBU) With the KMT energized in the city, Mayor Chen recognizes
the need to step up efforts to help the DPP retain the Mayor's seat
in 2010. However, personal health problems and a divided city
government may limit her ability to reverse the DPP's losing streak
in Kaohsiung. While some of Chen's closest advisors harbor hopes
that Mayor Chen will try to vindicate her strife-torn 2006 victory
with another run in 2010, most commentators believe that she will
step aside in favor of a younger, more vigorous DPP candidate in the
next election cycle. Our local DPP contacts have made no secret of
the widespread anxiety and restlessness among the party's rank and
file, and many of them have appealed directly to Chen to work harder
to reinvigorate the city's DPP prospects. Absent this, they fear, a
well-funded KMT mayoral candidate backed by a popular President may

TAIPEI 00000602 003 OF 003


prove to be too tough for the DPP to beat in just two years' time.

CASTRO

YOUNG

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