Tue, Nov 07, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Should he stay or should he go now?

Sunday saw President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) respond to the decision by prosecutors to indict first lady Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍) and three of his aides on charges of corruption and forgery in connection with their handling of the "state affairs fund." But his response was not the detailed explanation that most people had been waiting for and is therefore unlikely to alter many opinions.

Only the president and the first lady know whether they are innocent of the charges, but unless they reveal concrete evidence supporting the use of the "state affairs fund," then doubt will remain in the minds of even the most ardent pan-green supporters.

According to Chen, however, exposing the details of the fund's expenditure would endanger the life of Taiwanese agents and that is the reason he remains unwilling to say any more.

While Sunday's speech may have helped pan-green supporters understand the difficult position that Chen says he is in, it is clear that whatever he said would never be enough to placate his political foes. There are sections of the opposition that have been determined to oust Chen since day one of his presidency and now they have their best opportunity.

The current split in the pan-blue/red camp over the Taipei mayoral campaign and Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou's (馬英九) decision to start upholding the law and prevent illegal demonstrations may mean Chen will escape any further "sieges" and mass showings of public discontent. But now that charges have been filed against his wife, his fate has been taken out of his hands.

If the opposition decides to initiate its third recall motion, this will present the biggest immediate threat to Chen. Even though the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) seems determined to stick with him, if the Taiwan Solidarity Union and just 12 DPP lawmakers decide to break ranks and side with the opposition, this would spell the end of his presidency.

Nevertheless, Chen's position is an extremely problematic one, as whatever choice he makes will do serious harm to the nation's democratic development and localization movement.

If he decides to stay on, survives the recall bid and carries on with his duties until the first lady's trial, he will probably scupper any hope the DPP have for next month's mayoral elections. In addition, we can look forward to several more months of political showboating and legislative deadlock, although the truth is that this would have been the case regardless of the prosecutor's findings.

In the long term, Chen's decision to hang on to office will hurt the DPP and possibly affect the party's candidate for the 2008 presidential election, as the pan-blues will exploit the situation to taint the DPP as a party that approves of corruption.

But stepping down before any trial would be akin to admitting his family's guilt. Chen would, to use his words, be committing "political suicide." He would also deal a huge victory to the pro-China camp, as it would be a surrender to the pan-blue media's war of attrition and their long-standing campaign to deal a fatal blow to both Chen and the localization movement.

On the other hand, stepping down would put the onus on the pan-blues to work with the new government, and if they refused to do so, then the public would once again see that the last six years of pan-blue obstructionism has had nothing to do with who was occupying the presidency.

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