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Ma, Tsai carry TaiMed fight into debate (roundup)

2011/12/17 22:40:03

Taipei, Dec. 17 (CNA) The two leading candidates in a three-way presidential race used their last pre-election debate Saturday to pound each other over a biotech joint venture project in which the main opposition's chairwoman was accused of conflict of interest.

President Ma Ying-jeou, running for re-election on the Kuomintang ticket, said he would immediately give up his re-election bid if it is proven that he had ordered probes into Democratic Progressive Party candidate Tsai Ing-wen's role in the government's investment in the TaiMed biotech joint venture in 2007.

"It is completely unacceptable that DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen accused me without presenting any evidence that I had ordered the Special Investigation Division (SID) under the Supreme Prosecutors Office to probe her role in the TaiMed case," Ma said at the start of the televised debate.

A day earlier, Tsai accused Ma of having unleashed the power of the national apparatus and prosecution system to smear her ahead of the Jan. 14 presidential poll.

When it was her turn to speak Saturday, she repeated her accusation that the Ma campaign had abused national apparatus and government resources to smear her and mislead voters ahead of the presidential poll.

She was referring to the Council for Economic Planning and Development's (CEPD's) recent declassification of official files that show Tsai signed papers in her capacity as vice premier in March 2007 endorsing government investment in TaiMed Biologics Co., of which Tsai became chairwoman in September 2007, four months after she ended her public service.

Describing such moves as ugly campaign scheming, Tsai said the practices simply helped to highlight President Ma's lackluster performances over the past three-plus years.

Squaring up with his two challengers, Ma said, "Instead of mudslinging me, what Tsai should urgently do is clearly explain why she had not avoided conflict of interest after stepping down from the vice premiership," Ma said.

Ma said the key point of the TaiMed case is about political ethics and political style. "Tsai should be courageous enough to accept the highest and most rigorous moral examination as a presidential hopeful," Ma noted,

James Soong of the People First Party stood by amused as the two leading contenders fired salvos at each other. "The parties that you lead have been squabbling with each other constantly," he said. "You must be very tired, as in fact are the people of Taiwan by your dog-fighting."

He urged voters to cast their ballots for an experienced candidate who has no political baggage and has a comprehensive set of administrative policies, ranging from tax reform and industrial transformation to the inclusion of pre-school education in the national education system.

Soong reiterated his pledge to form a cross-party government that would address the needs of small and medium-sized enterprises and middle class and low-income people.

Unlike the previous occasion two weeks ago when media representatives posed questions to them, civic representatives took over the job this time.

Representative from such groups as Taiwan Healthcare Reform Foundation, Consumers' Foundation, Taiwan Association for Human Rights, 248 Farmers' Market, Taiwan Environmental Protection Union and the Judicial Reform Foundation, asked the candidates questions ranging from education budget to social housing.

Other participants included Alliance for Fair Tax Reform, Awakening Foundation, Taiwan Alliance for Advancement of Youth Rights and Welfare, National Teachers' Association, Taiwan Labor Front and Social Housing Advocacy Alliance.

Yang Ju-men, founder of the 248 Farmers' Market, asked the presidential hopefuls if it is possible for the Presidential Office to turn some parking lots into organic farms.

Ma said he will consider the feasibility so city dwellers could understand farmers' way of life and the benefits agriculture brings to the country.

According to recent polls, Ma and Tsai are locked in a tight race, while Soong remains a distant third.

(By Sofia Wu, James Lee, Elizabeth Hsu and S.C. Chang)