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Key Lawmakers Break Away From Taiwan Ruling Party : Asia: Heads of New Party are among nation's most popular politicians. Action seems modeled on defections in Japan.


HONG KONG — Maverick lawmakers from Taiwan's ruling Nationalist Party announced the creation Tuesday of a splinter party that may have the potential to reshape the island's politics.

Dubbed simply the New Party, the breakaway group is headed by some of the most popular politicians in Taiwan, including two former ministers who have accused the Nationalist leadership of failing to fight political corruption.

"Money politics is widespread because the Nationalists tolerate it. The pace of internal reform in the Nationalist Party is too slow. Staying on in the party is meaningless," rebel leader and former Cabinet member Jaw Shau-kong said at a news conference in Taiwan announcing the party's formation.

Jaw, a former environmental minister, and fellow New Party leader Wang Chien-shien, a former finance minister, were top vote-getters in last December's parliamentary elections. Reports from Taipei earlier this year said Jaw was planning to run for president or vice president of Taiwan in 1996.

The action by the six legislators forming the New Party seemed openly modeled after a similar rebellion in Japan led by Morihiro Hosokawa, who split from the long-dominant Liberal Democratic Party last year. Hosokawa was sworn in as Japan's prime minister on Monday with the backing of a broad coalition of former opposition parties.

"I believe the political situation in Japan encouraged and inspired them to split from the ruling party," Leonard Hsu, a member of the National Assembly from Taiwan's main opposition Democratic Progressive Party, said in a telephone interview.

"The country is sick and the society in chaos," Chou Chuan, another party founder, told reporters at the Taipei news conference. "The New Party is a new hope."

The split within the ruling party--the first since the Nationalists fled to Taiwan in 1949, after losing a civil war to the Communists on mainland China--came just days before the Nationalist Party is due to open its 14th Party Congress. At that meeting, scheduled to begin Monday, Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui is expected to further consolidate his authority after five years in office.

Some analysts in Taiwan believe the split raises doubts about Lee's leadership and could lead to a drop in support for the Nationalists at the polls, giving a boost to the Democratic Progressives. The next election is set for November, when voters choose heads of county and city governments.

Fung Hu-hsiang, a philosophy professor at Taiwan's National Central University and the National Taiwan University, said in a Tuesday evening telephone interview that support for the Nationalists may fall enough that the Democratic Progressives "will win the upcoming election at the end of this year."

But Vice Premier Hsu Li-teh, also interviewed by telephone, expressed hope that the breakaway party will not do too much damage to the Nationalists.

The Democratic Progressives, who draw almost all their support from native-born Taiwanese, favor permanent independence from China for Taiwan. The Nationalist government, which formally calls its territory the Republic of China, advocates reunification of the island and the mainland, once there is more democracy in China.

The new breakaway party, with six seats in the legislature, ranks third after the Democratic Progressives, who have 52 seats.

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