President Chen Shui-bian's (
Chen faces a grim choice. He is under no constitutional obligation to resign, and in the current politicized and polarized environment, there is a case to be made for abiding by constitutional process.
However, if he battles on with a prosecution hanging over his head, Chen will place incredible pressure on his party's legislators, many of whom will need to appeal to moderate blue-camp voters if they are to have a hope of retaining a seat in a downsized legislature. There is a risk that some of these will vote with Taiwan Solidarity Union legislators -- together with the opposition and independents -- to have Chen recalled as early as next week. This is a scenario that Chen would not want to see if he has his party's interests at heart.
The days to come will therefore see intense lobbying by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) officials as they look for a way for the party to extricate itself from this controversy and leave itself some hope of a good result in the elections for Taipei and Kaohsiung mayors this year, the legislature late next year and the presidency in 2008.
If one good thing has come out of this miserable affair, it is that the investigation has proceeded without substantial interference by the Presidential Office or other executive organs. For those who place stock in the separation of powers, there is satisfaction to be had at witnessing a president, his wife and his staff come undone at the hands of a wide-ranging probe by officers whose agencies he ultimately has some power over.
But there is no satisfaction to be had at witnessing scenes of joy and celebration by pan-blue camp legislators at the announcement of the prosecutions. Their partisan joy is not Taiwan's joy. It is the opportunism of people who have spent years blocking good government and egging on irresponsible elements in their ranks.
These are people that demonized the judiciary when it found -- after an exhaustive process of appeals -- that the result of the 2004 presidential election was fair, and that conspiracy theories peddled by former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Lien Chan (
How their tune changes when it suits them.
Grassroots DPP supporters will be particularly appalled by the latest developments. For many of them, Chen represented everything that was good about Taiwan and the Taiwanese. The prosecution of Wu even more helps to despoil the lore that helped bring Chen to power -- fighting victimization by the KMT, transforming Taipei City, Wu's apparent steadfastness in her relationship with her husband, and so on. That all of this should come crashing down because of allegedly illegal spending on jewelry and other petty baubles is not just tragic: it's an appalling blight on everything that is precious about this country.