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Taiwan's Nationalists Face Dramatic Political Changes

December 03, 1986|JIM MANN | Times Staff Writer

"During the past 30 years, we have paid a high price. Our cadres have been arrested and jailed. Now, we have achieved our goal, the new party has been formed. But this is only the first step. We must now become a competitor to the Nationalist Party."

Still, there are signs that the euphoria may not last. Martial law will not be lifted until early next year, after the elections are over and a new national security law being drafted by the Interior Ministry is enacted to replace it.

Opposition leaders say they fear that the new security provision may prove to be nearly as restrictive as martial law, and President Chiang himself has had to urge the ministry to speed up its work on the new law.

Caution Is Urged

"We must be cautious, in order to make the new law as perfect as possible," Wang Shanwong, the vice minister of interior, said in an interview.

Furthermore, by all accounts, Taiwan's military leaders and some elders within the Nationalist Party continue to oppose the new political reforms.

"The military here has for a long time been required to think in a certain way," said Yang Kuo-shu, chairman of the psychology department at National Taiwan University. "Only a few days before President Chiang's announcement, they were saying with confidence that nothing would be changed. So, they were shocked, just as everybody was shocked. They felt dislocated, puzzled. Some expressed their opposition at the highest levels."

One member of the Nationalist Party, who spoke on condition that his name would not be used, noted that even though martial law is being lifted, it might be reimposed.

"Image is important here, but not as important as internal stability," he said. Asked who would guarantee internal stability, he replied, "The military. They will not allow chaos and disorder."

Until President Chiang's recent initiatives, there had been some academic discussion but little practical change in Taiwan's authoritarian political system. The Nationalist Party has for nearly four decades held the dominant and favored position over all aspects of political life here.

Only 3 Legal Parties

Under martial law, civilians can be tried in military courts. The only political parties allowed on Taiwan are the Nationalists and two insignificant fringe parties, the Young China Party and the China Democratic Socialist Party, which came over with Chiang Kai-shek's forces to Taiwan from the mainland.

Publications by forces opposed to the regime are still often seized or banned. Newspapers and magazines from outside Taiwan are held at the airport while they are screened and censored.

Over the last few years, the Nationalist regime has gradually loosened its grip on political dissent. Opposition publications have occasionally been allowed to air criticisms of the regime, or even of President Chiang, which would have landed them in jail a decade ago.

The censorship of outside publications is less strict. This year, on the anniversary of Chiang Kai-shek's birthday, for example, Taiwan's censors allowed into the island a Hong Kong newspaper with a wire-service report from Peking headlined, "Mainland Memories of the Generalissimo Fade."

Most importantly, the regime's political opponents have been allowed a bit more latitude in elections. Until now, the opposition candidates have been referred to as the tangwai, the Chinese word for "outside the party." In recent years, tangwai candidates have been receiving about 30% of the popular vote.

Continuing Restrictions

Nevertheless, the continuing restrictions of martial law have prevented the tangwai from organizing themselves into a party or from operating on the same legal footing as the Nationalists.

The Nationalists' move to lift martial law dates to last March, when the party, at its most recent congress, set up a 12-member committee to study political changes. Lifting martial law and recognizing political parties were two of the issues that the group was assigned to study.

In early September, opposition groups staged a series of street demonstrations in Taipei. Thousands of people--in one instance, an estimated 12,000 demonstrators--protested the jailing of Lin Cheng-chieh, a tangwai leader and member of the Taipei City Council who had been convicted of defamation of a government-supported politician.

When Lin began serving his jail sentence, opposition leaders on Sept. 28 defied martial law by suddenly announcing the formation of their new party, the Democratic Progressive Party. Shortly afterwards, President Chiang countered by announcing plans to end martial law and to allow new political parties.

Chiang said new parties would be allowed to operate so long as they abided by three restrictions: to remain anti-Communist, obey the constitution and stay clear of the movement for an independent Taiwan. His proposals were approved by the party's central committee in mid-October.

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