Taiwan's opposition politicians and journalists have taken to attacking publicly not only the ruling political party here, but also the leading family. The result has been more censorship in recent months but no halt to the attacks.
The attacks on alleged wrongdoings of the late president Chiang Kai-shek, his son the current president, Chiang Ching-kuo, and a number of their family members reached a peak last month during the campaign for the Nov. 16 local elections.
Some observers consider the attacks to be part of a regrettable turn toward mudslinging on all sides, with members of the opposition and ruling Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang, engaging in criticism of the personal lives of their opponents. But some foreign analysts consider the attacks on Taiwan's leading family to be a healthy sign that the Kuomintang is "growing up" and allowing more freedom of speech.
The elections left the Kuomintang in clear and firm control on this island; it won 146 out of 191 offices in the races for mayors, county chiefs, city councilmen and provincial assemblymen. But the elections also showed that cheating, ballot rigging and occasional outright intimidation continue to play a role in politics here.
In one incident in Tainan county, an unsuccessful opposition candidate for county magistrate said he had been warned in an anonymous note, presumed to have come from the Kuomintang, that his wife would be killed if he continued to run for the office. After the election, when he and his wife were out thanking voters, a truck jumped the curb and hit his wife, paralyzing her from the waist down.
The truck driver said his brakes were faulty, but the brakes were later determined to have been in order.
In addition to relatively isolated acts of violence, allegations of cheating on the part of candidates from the ruling party surfaced at a number of locations throughout the island.
According to some analysts, the Kuomintang would have done well in most locations regardless of cheating because the ruling party is better organized than the opposition and controls much of the media, including television.
In Hsinchu, a small city in northern Taiwan, opposition candidates argued that the cheating made a difference. They said the Kuomintang brought busloads of retired veterans and their families into the city to have them vote for candidates of the ruling party. They said this provided the margin for victory in the election of the city's acting mayor, Jen Fu-yung, and the defeat of Shih-Hsing-jung, the opposition candidate.
During the election campaign, the tangwai, an unofficial coalition of opposition groups, was not allowed to print a slogan advocating self-determination for Taiwan. That is a taboo subject as far as the Kuomintang is concerned. But opposition candidates who did touch on the subject in campaign rallies were not punished by the government.
"In a number of rallies, the tangwai criticized the president and his family in a way that would have landed them in jail two years ago," said one foreign analyst.
One of the strongest attacks came in the form of a campaign leaflet distributed by tangwai candidates. The leaflet asked who in Taiwan had taken the greatest advantage of their privileged positions to advance their careers and personal fortunes. And it answered the question by providing a kind of family tree of the Chiang family.
The leaflet implies that President Chiang Ching-kuo, leader of the Kuomintang, inherited great wealth from his father but failed to pay the proper inheritance tax.
The leaflet says that a younger brother of Chiang Ching-kuo built a huge, luxurious mansion for his private use under the guise of building a military facility. It charged that a son of Chiang Ching-kuo was implicated in the killing last year in California of Henry Liu, a Chinese-American dissident writer.
Other attacks on the Chiang family have come in more than a dozen oppositon magazines, some of which once published articles by Henry Liu.
Wu Nai-jen, head of the tangwai's United Editors and Writers Association, said the increase in criticism of the Chiang family has resulted in an increase in confiscations of opposition magazines by the government. He said that only a small number of dissident magazines had been able to avoid suspension or banning.
It is not clear whether the sharpened attacks on the Chiang family had any impact on the November elections.
President Chiang Ching-kuo appears to enjoy considerable popularity here. One foreignanalyst says that Chiang rarely gets blamed for mistakes made by the Kuomintang; the analyst calls the chubby-faced Chiang "the teflon Buddha."
Editor Wu said the magazines were focusing on the family because "it was time to dig into the history of the Chiang family and get to the source of some of Taiwan's problems." He also said it was a question of commercial profit for the magazines. "People like to read about this," he said.
None of this means, however, that the magazines or other publications enjoy full freedom. The government controls television; newspapers are either government-controlled or subject to heavy government influence.
A Taiwan journalist who considers himself independent said the newspapers felt free to mention the allegations of cheating that surfaced during the elections. But he said there were limits on how far the press could go in linking such allegations to the Kuomintang.
"We can mention vote buying, but we can't mention that it's the Kuomintang that encourages it," he said.