TAIPEI, Taiwan – A gunman opened fire on a campaign rally on the eve of key local elections in Taiwan on Friday, killing one man and critically wounding the son of a former vice president. A suspect is in custody and may belong to a gang.
Police said the men were hit when the assailant rushed the stage at an elementary school in the gritty town of Yung Ho, on the outskirts of the capital. A candidate for city council was apparently the intended target.
Hospital officials said that though he was shot in the face and temple, Lien Sheng-wen's life was not in danger. He is the son of former Vice President Lien Chan and a politician in his own right.
Such acts of violence are unusual in election campaigns in Taiwan, which began a gradual transition from one-party dictatorship to fully functioning democracy in the late 1980s. Violence carried out by Taiwan's gangs is also limited, though the gangs themselves exercise considerable political influence, particularly on Taiwanese county governments.
Former Vice President Lien Chan and his 40-year-old son are both members of the ruling Nationalist Party, which will meet the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party in elections Saturday that could have a significant impact on government policy of improving relations with China.
Taiwanese will elect mayors and local officials in five large cities around the island. Lien Sheng-wen was speaking on behalf of a candidate for city council — the apparent target of the crime, according to Taiwan's National Policy Agency chief Wang Cho-chiun. Police have given no motive for the attack.
A police official from Yung Ho, who asked not to be identified, said the suspect had 48 bullets in his possession when he was taken into custody. He confirmed that another man, surnamed Huang, was killed.
Taiwanese TV stations reported that the suspect is nicknamed "horse face," a sobriquet that would likely indicate his membership in one of Taiwan's criminal gangs.
After the attack, Ma rushed to Taipei's National Taiwan University Hospital, where Lien was being treated.
"Taiwan is a democracy," Ma told reporters there. "We will not tolerate such violence."
Hospital spokeswoman Tan Ching-ting said Lien was conscious when he was brought to the facility just before 9 p.m. (8 a.m. EST, 1300 GMT).
"His wounds are in his left part of his face and his right temple," she said. "He is now in surgery."
While Saturday's elections are for local seats, the winning party is likely to carry momentum into the presidential elections in March 2012, which will almost certainly feature Ma against a still unnamed opposition candidate.
Observers are carefully watching voting trends for signs of future policy initiatives toward China, from which Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949.
Ma, 60, favors expanding Taiwan's already robust commercial relations with the mainland, and if re-elected in 2012, could begin political talks with Beijing.
In contrast, the opposition wants to slow the pace of economic convergence across the 100-mile- (160-kilometer-) wide Taiwan Strait and would almost certainly close the door on political dialogue with the mainland. That might worry the United States, which has applauded Ma's success in helping to ease tensions in one of Asia's traditional flashpoints.