Thu, Dec 16, 2004 - Page 8 News List

What Chen needs now is the power to persuade

By Liu Kuan-teh劉冠德

In his resignation speech taking full responsibility for the Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) poor performance in last week's legislative elections, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) called on all party members to engage in self-examination and rejuvenate themselves under the spirit of perseverance.

In quitting his post as DPP chairman, Chen portrayed himself as "the president of the people" and pledged to bridge the partisan gaps and reunite the nation.

Despite the president arguing that "a loss is a loss and we have to respect and abide by the people's choice," the fact is the DPP was able to earn two more seats and almost 2 percent more of the vote than it did three years ago. Unrealistic expectations and misallocation of votes contributed to the DPP's "poor" electoral results.

Without securing a de facto majority in the legislature, Chen will face tremendous challenges internally and externally in the remainder of his second term. It will take great courage and determination -- and most importantly, a readjustment of leadership -- for Chen to reset his agenda and reframe policy debates in accordance with the political realities.

There are at least three huge challenges that Chen needs to surmount, most importantly, an antagonistic and military-orientated regime in Beijing that has so far showed no respect for Chen and may continue to ignore his peace gestures. The second challenge is the partially damaged US-Taiwan relationship due largely to different views on Chen's push for the intensification of a Taiwan consciousness. The final challenge the president faces is the potential for prolonged gridlock with the pan-blue opposition in the legislature over the next three years.

Given that Beijing has continually poured cold water on Chen's proposal of establishing a cross-strait peace and stability framework, the Chinese leadership may continue its "no-contact policy" with the Chen administration and take advantage of the DPP's less-than-desirable performance in the elections. They may also try to encourage a public backlash against Chen and what are interpreted as moves toward Taiwan's independence. Under such circumstances, can Chen stick to his basic stance and reopen dialogue with his counterpart in Beijing on equal footing?

When it comes to the question of healing Taipei-Washington relations, the Bush administration must feel relieved after the pan-blue forces re-established a majority in the legislature. Still, Chen will have to reassure the US it will not be caught between the rise of a Taiwan consciousness and Chinese nationalism, while Chen's push for a new constitution by 2006 will have no bearing on Taiwan's status quo.

While urging the US to play a more constructive role of mediator between Taipei and Beijing, the Chen administration must ensure Washington plays a balanced role without sacrificing Taiwan's interests. Furthermore, Chen must work hard to restore Washington's trust and establish clear and candid channels of communication with the new Asian team in the second Bush administration.

Finally, as he pledged in his farewell speech that the DPP would forge ahead with reform and enhance democracy in Taiwan, first on Chen's domestic agenda is bridging the divisions in society which resulted from the heated and agitated campaign.

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