Taiwan's hopeful politicians cross swords for the first time

TAIPEI, Taiwan - Taipei mayoral hopefuls Sean Lien (連勝文) and Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) yesterday engaged in their first election debate, just three weeks before the hotly anticipated vote is to take place.

The two parties were allowed to bring no more than 15 members of their campaign team to the debate; on Lien's list were his wife Tsai Yi-shan (蔡依珊) and Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌), while Ko invited former government officials and a number of citizens. Both Lien and Ko were asked to recommend three citizen groups to propose questions for each candidate, and the debate began with the candidates' brief introduction of their political views.

Ko went first, quoting the words of late democracy advocate Chiang Wei-shui (蔣渭水). "I will be fighting this battle with his legacy; this is the first social movement with culture as the theme, and the first political election with 'a change in political culture' as a demand." The physician then declared his major goal as the establishment of a "clear government system," in which citizens are allowed to participate.

The Kuomintang's (KMT) Lien brought up his survival from cancer and a bullet, declaring his determination to "serve the people."

Lien vowed numerous times his determination to carry out his goals, including an equally developed city and the protection of laborers, saying that "Mr. Ko has only been presenting beautifully wrapped words."

Concerning the minimum salary and complaints from many citizens about their long work hours, both Ko and Lien proposed to trim the number of contract workers. "Taipei's biotechnology and science parks should be completed for more job vacancies," said Ko, as Lien proposed to "issue NT$6,000 worth of employment subsidies to young people on their first job hunt."

Ko Addresses Criticism over 'Sexist' Slips

The spotlight shone on gender inequality many times during the debate, from the issue of protecting women's employment rights to Ko's recent slips that were slammed as openly sexist. Lien promised to protect disadvantaged groups first, including victims of domestic violence and immigrant women, and Ko would be reviewing future policies along with supporting laws that ensured gender equality. The independent candidate addressed his being branded a sexist, admitting that he has neglected being sensitive to gender equality issues and promising a change in attitude.

Both passed over the nuclear power topic by saying no to Taiwan's oldest nuke plant, and progressed onto cross-examinations.

To Ko's demand that he too should publicize a list of his properties and wealth to the public, Lien proposed an open investigation by accountants and invited Ko to another debate, in which they are to discuss political views only.

Lien questioned Ko's previous support for former President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), and his supposedly staunch stance for the main opposition party, yet Ko stressed that his intention of running for mayor is to "break the blue-green disputes that have torn apart the city," and that he will not be joining any party after he is elected mayor.

Lien also was of the opinion that the Ko camp should take responsibility for Ko's leaked campaign schedule and list of professional consultants. "Many from your side have been trying to 'buy' my team members by offering higher positions in your camp; this can be seen as a type of bribery," accused Lien, who said that the revelation of Ko's information was intended to stop the bribery.

The debate ended with a wrap-up of political views and goals from each candidate.