Doctor takes on gun victim he saved in Taiwan vote drama

Doctor takes on gun victim he saved in Taiwan vote drama
Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou (front left) speaks to Sean Lien, the Nationalist Party's (KMT) Taipei mayor candidate.

TAIPEI - It is the most dramatic contest of Taiwan's biggest ever local elections - a high-flying surgeon takes on the man whose life he helped save after he was shot in the head on the campaign trail.

Emergency doctor Ko Wen-je led the team which operated on financier Sean Lien after Lien was attacked at a rally in November 2010.

Now they are rivals in the intense battle for the influential post of Taipei mayor, with voters going to the polls Saturday.

Independent candidate Ko, 55, has surged ahead of Beijing-friendly Lien, who is son of a vice president and running for the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party.

Maverick Ko's lead in opinion polls reflects disenchantment with the KMT government over fears of increased Chinese influence, a slowing economy and a string of food scandals.

Polls show the KMT is likely to take a beating in Saturday's elections, which will see 20,000 candidates contest a record 11,130 seats and are an important barometer for a presidential vote in 2016.

Losing Taipei, a KMT stronghold, would be a major embarrassment for the government.

Lucky escape

With all eyes on the capital, both candidates looked back to the dramatic shooting which shocked Taiwan.

"If the bullet had struck me just half a centimetre higher, it could have taken my life... I am still here," Lien told AFP.

"Because of my strong sense of purpose, I chose to embrace the crowds again." Lien was at a Taipei rally supporting a KMT candidate when he was shot.

The gunman, a local gang member, was sentenced to life for attempted murder. The attacker said he had been targeting the candidate over a personal dispute, but hit Lien by mistake.

Lien thanked Ko at a pre-election press conference for "helping me through my life crisis" - but added "he was probably not the most vital person" during the procedure.

The comments are typical of the thinly veiled animosity between the two, with mudslinging between both camps at fever-pitch as the election draws near.

Ko, who was head of the trauma department at National Taiwan University Hospital when Lien was shot, has played down his role.

"I was coordinating and organising the overall emergency treatment process (of Lien) but did not participate in the surgery," he told AFP.

But he says that his background as a doctor has won him voters' confidence.

"I am a political novice and I do not have a political party background... as a doctor, I am not bound by ideologies... I quickly gained the public trust when I entered politics."

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