TAIPEI - The leak of a "classified" document warning a Ting Hsin group company of a raid to be conducted by investigators on its oil-making plant in Pingtung is threatening the Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) campaign to continue its rule in the southern county.
Some observers have noted that although the DPP is generally still considered the favourite to win the upcoming commissioner election in Pingtung, the Kuomintang's chances of victory have increased.
The DPP candidate Pan Meng-an is campaigning to succeed the retiring Pingtung County Commissioner Tsao Chi-hung, who has adamantly refused to step down despite his administration having made mistakes handling the recent Ting Hsin oil scandal.
But the Kuomintang's (KMT) hopeful, Chien Tai-lang, has accused the DPP commissioner of protecting Ting Hsin, claiming his heir apparent, Pan, cannot be trusted.
Voters' trust for the DPP rule in Pingtung may have been eroded by the latest revelation that a county health official sent a copy of a document to Wei Chuan Food Co. notifying it that investigators would come inspect its plant.
The health official has claimed that she sent it by mistake and argued that she did not know the document was classified. There have also been conflicting accounts concerning the document's status of confidentiality.
But the leak has fueled speculations that Tsao has been protecting the Wei family running the food conglomerate.
Such speculations first emerged when the food scandal erupted amid revelations that the county government had ignored complaints about an illegal oil factory that supplied waste oil to Ting Hsin.
The United Evening News said yesterday that results of survey conducted by the KMT for internal reference have shown that the gap between Pan and Chien is narrowing to within 5 percentage points although the former is still leading.
Pingtung has been a traditional stronghold of the DPP. In his re-election victory four years ago, Tsao routed his KMT rival by more than 18 percentage points in terms of vote share.
DPP heavyweight Tsai Ing-wen lost to the KMT's Ma Ying-jeou two years ago in the presidential election, but she managed to lead the re-election-seeking president by 13 percentage points in vote share in the southern county.
The narrow gap that the KMT claims is separating Pan and Chien is a rare one. The United Evening News cited KMT election officials as expressing optimism that actual support for Chien is even higher.
At least one voter expressed his anger at the county government by spray-painting words of accusation on the floor of the county health bureau's office, calling it a "mole" working for Ting Hsin. Police have arrested the alleged perpetrator.
But Tsao denied that he has any personal relationship with the Wei family. He also claimed that the Pingtung health bureau was framed by the KMT.
Unnamed county officials were cited by the United Evening News as arguing that the electronic copy of the document the health official sent to Wei Chuan came from the Ministry of Health and Welfare, which also sent a copy to the Changhua County Government.
The copy sent to Changhua was encrypted while the one for Pingtung was not, the officials claimed.
Shiu Ming-neng, deputy minister of health and welfare, said neither of the electronic copies was encrypted. But he stressed that such documents were meant for internal use and were not supposed to be made public.