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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

Five Politicians to Monitor

Contenders to succeed Lee Teng-hui are fast emerging

By Laurence Eyton / Taipei


PRESIDENT LEE TENG-HUI SAYS he will step down from Taiwan's political stage when his term expires in 2000. That may be three years away, but contenders to succeed him are already emerging. Five men to watch:

LIEN CHAN, 61. Currently vice president and prime minister. With massive crowds turning out on Taipei streets to demand his resignation from the PM's job, he hardly looks like a viable future presidential candidate. But he has one great advantage over potential rivals: the continuing support of President Lee, whose endorsement would pretty much guarantee the nomination of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT). A scion of one of the island's richest families, Lien is a cold, aloof figure without the populist touch of his patron. He plans to leave the premiership in July, which gives him at least a couple of years to improve his image and to restore his political fortunes. Like Lee, of Taiwan, not mainland, origin, which is an advantage these days.

JAMES SOONG CHU-YU, 55. Soong's election as Taiwan provincial governor in 1993 has given him the campaigning experience that other leading KMT luminaries -- all professional bureaucrats -- lack. Soong has been famously loyal to Lee, but his tough, no-nonsense style, plus his demands for money for the provincial government, created friction with the president. Their disagreements caused Lee to abolish the provincial government in all but name. This led to Soong's (as yet unaccepted) resignation and his boycott of senior KMT meetings. Lien's problems, however, seem to have helped get Soong back in the running. He is one of the few possible mainland Chinese candidates for the top job, largely because of his reinvention of himself in mid-career as a Taiwan populist.

VINCENT SIEW WAN-CHANG, 58. Siew spent 19 years at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and two at the Council for Economic Planning and Development. Since he left government to become a legislator in 1995, Siew (also Taiwanese) has been entrusted with President Lee's pet projects, such as constitutional reform. Suc-cessful completion of this task is likely to bring Siew the PM's job in July. Aspirations to anything higher will depend on his performance in that office.

MA YING-JEOU, 46. By far the most charismatic KMT politician. He is known as a competent administrator and as a man with a conscience. Ma quit the cabinet in early May in disgust at its lack of response to public criticism. Ma claims he has left politics for good and intends to teach at the prestigious National Cheng-chih University. It seems unlikely, however, that Ma will remain away from the political limelight for very long.

CHEN SHUI-BIAN, 46. Currently the Taipei mayor, but a member of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party not the KMT. Though Chen's administration is run-of-the-mill, his political skills are superb. He has astutely brought KMT personnel into his city government to broaden his already wide appeal. His relative youth might be a problem in a presidential bid -- Taiwan people expect presidents to be older -- but it also means he has time on his side. And he is Taiwanese.

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