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The death of President Chiang Ching-kuo poses a serious challeng

January 14, 1988

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) _ The death of President Chiang Ching-kuo poses a serious challenge to dissidents who fear that conservatives in the governing Nationalist Party may try to slow or reverse his reforms.

Chiang, who died Wednesday of heart failure, spent his last years loosening the authoritarian grip of the Nationalists. They have controlled the island since they fled mainland China in 1949 after losing a civil war to the Communists led by Mao Tse-tung.

Chiang allowed the formation of opposition political parties, scrapped martial law and permitted Taiwan residents to travel to China to visit relatives for the first time since the civil war.

Under those policies, Taiwan’s dissidents gained a new visibility and increased their activity.

The opposition Democratic Progressive Party frequently took to the streets of Taipei to protest the Nationalists’ domination of the government. Its newly elected lawmakers relished picking fights with governing party members on the floor of the legislature.

The dissidents also noisly pushed for more political power for native Taiwanese, who constitute 85 percent of the island’s 19.5 million people. Most Nationalist leaders are from the Chinese mainland, although the new president was born in Taiwan.

But there have been reports Chiang’s reforms were resisted by influential conservatives in his party who are opposed to any contacts with the Chinese Communists.

And the heady days of dissent may be over for a while as dissidents wonder what’s in store after the death of Chiang, who is deeply mourned by an opposition that respected his efforts to ease political restrictions.

The opposition party announced soon after the death an indefinite moratorium on demonstrations, which the government banned anyway for a 30-day mourning period that began Thursday.

Chiang was the son of Chiang Kai-shek, who led the Nationalists when Japan was defeated in China in World War II and when the Nationalists fought the Communists.

He was able to push the liberalization program over the resistance of some influential Nationalist conservatives by the force of his prestige.

His successor, Lee Teng-hui, is believed to be a supportor of Chiang’s policies and was groomed by Chiang as his successor, but he cannot match his charisma and he lacks Chiang’s power base.

Lee received a boost Thursday when Defense Minister Cheng Wei-yuan and General Hau Pei-tsun, chief of the general staff, released the text of a cable they sent the new president on Wednesday pledging their loyalty.

″All the armed forces will be loyal (to you) in our sorrow,″ the cable said.

But some Taiwanese believe a weak president could lead top leaders to rule by committee, slowing down the reform program, and that the center of power could move from the Presidential Office Building to the Cabinet meeting room.

Kang Ning-hsiang, a top lawmaker for the opposition party, said conservatives may move against political liberalization.

″There is such a possibility,″ he said. ″But we hope this will not happen.

″We have to move forward on the way toward democracy,″ he said. ″I hope the (Nationalists) will not move backward, or the society will not stand it.″

Tao Pai-chuan, an adviser to the late president and a scholar known for his liberal political views, was quoted by the official Central Daily News as saying that Chiang’s death was a ″thunder under a bright sky, an accident and a shock.″

″We are now at a critical moment, at a crossroad which might lead us either to heaven or hell,″ he said. ″I believe that all people should discard their prejudices, unite together to support President Lee to continue with our political reforms, and fulfill the unfinished will of the (late) president.″

Antonio Chiang, publisher of the Journalist, a liberal weekly magazine, said: ″The opposition is worried that the conservative group will fight back. The DPP doesn’t know how to react now.″

He said he expects dissidents to be quiet for several weeks until the political situation clears. The opposition is seeking many more reforms, such as scrapping the political system that ensures the vast majority of lawmakers are aging Nationalists.

Liberal members of the Nationalist Party who favor Chiang Ching-kuo’s reform policies also are waiting to see what happens.

″We don’t know if these plans will be carried through,″ said Jaw Shau- kong, a young Nationalist member. ″If we see riots in the streets, then conservatives will use that as an excuse″ to slow or stop the reforms, he said.

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