TAIWAN: by Jeffry Babb News Weekly
Taiwan President rocked by scandals
, August 5, 2006
President Chen Shui-bian, despite his plummeting popularity, is still the man pulling the strings in his party and Government, reports Jeffry Babb.Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian has been in power since 2000, winning re-election in 2004 following a mysterious assassination attempt in his home-town, which won him much sympathy among his wavering supporters.
Chen, the first member of the independence-seeking Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to crack the nationalist Kuomintang (KMT)'s hold on the nation's top executive office, was once enormously popular, but a series of scandals has seen his popularity slump below 20 per cent.
President Chen's wife, Wu Shu-chen, has been accused of taking about AUD$1 million in department-store gift-vouchers as payment for her alleged role in the takeover of the Sogo department store chain. Mrs Chen - who has been confined to a wheelchair since 1985 when she was injured in an allegedly politically-inspired traffic accident - has admitted taking small numbers of vouchers from a family friend.Strain
Mrs Chen is now widely unpopular, being seen as "greedy". She has not been proved to be directly involved in the Sogo scandal, and her husband, President Chen, has made a heavily qualified commitment to step down if her "direct" involvement is proved. Mrs Chen, sometimes described as "the person more powerful than the president," is said to be in ill health due to the strain of the various scandals swirling around her family.
Worse for the president's family, Chen's son-in-law Chao Chien-ming has recently been released from pre-trial detention over his role in an insider-trading scam, in which he made many millions of dollars. The son-in-law has been implicated in several other scams.
Many observers believe that President Chen has been lobbying the prosecutors on his son-in-law's behalf, resulting in three other charges being dropped. The son-in-law has now been released on recently increased bail, although whether he will be allowed to return to his profession of orthopaedic surgeon is yet to be seen.
His wife, the "First Daughter," has recently given birth to the couple's third child. Many women think Chao Chien-ming is a good man, because he used to hand his substantial pay packet to his wife on pay day, even though he still spent thousands of dollars a month.
Also, a former close aide to President Chen is in detention following his implication in a series of scandals, the first of which derived from a riot by Thai immigrant construction workers building an underground subway system in the southern port city of Kaohsiung.
Many people, including former supporters and DPP members, are disgusted by the scandals. A group of academics and social activists, formerly an important support base, have openly called for President Chen to resign.
Chen's remaining supporters are the "deep green" segment of the electorate, who would seek independence from China at any cost and would suffer anything for Chen.
So far, despite intense pressure from people and groups normally loyal to the DPP, Chen has refused to step down. Chen has taken a number of steps to remove himself from the day-to-day running of the government and DPP, handing over power to his prime minister and stating he will not seek the role of secretary-general of the DPP, the most powerful party post.
As long as no major new scandals erupt, President Chen may feel he is over the worst.
In a very clever manoeuvre, the recently concluded DPP party congress decided to force all factions within the party to disband. Thus, the powerful New Tide faction, which has been leading the DPP internal push against Chen, will be forced to disband.
The New Tide faction, which arguably predates the establishment of the DPP nearly 20 years ago, may have its influence substantially reduced. The factions, which used to act as "parties within the party", have previously been the main driving force behind the DPP, with strong loyalties to various party strong-men and their own sources of funds.
Whether Chen's manoeuvre will work is still a topic of conjecture. The factions may simply "go underground". If nothing else, it proves that Chen, who pointedly did not attend the two-day conference, is still the man pulling the strings in the party and Government.
The long-governing KMT, now in opposition, has been quiet recently. Several reasonably small rallies were held to demand Chen's resignation, but it might have finally dawned on the "pan-blue" opposition that Chen's replacement, according to the nation's Constitution, will be his vice-president, Annette Lu.
Lu, though she is not popular in the DPP, is respected by the public as a straight shooter. An Annette Lu presidency would give the DPP the chance of a new start, which is the last thing the opposition parties desire.
Chen has cleverly played on the divide between the local Taiwanese and the mainlanders who came to Taiwan with Chiang Kai-shek, in order to boost the forces of "localism" in Taiwan and his claim to be a "son of Taiwan". In the meantime, he has made the cross Taiwan Strait relationship with China the perennial touch-stone in Taiwan politics.