Tue, Nov 14, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Chen faces a tough choice

Following prosecutor Eric Chen's (陳瑞仁) indictment of first lady Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍), President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) vowed that he never embezzled from the "state affairs fund" and that he would step down if his wife were found guilty of corruption. Although the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) leadership gave solid backing to Chen at last week's Central Executive Committee meeting, the president isn't out of danger yet.

The anti-Chen demonstrations are dwindling, and the pan-blue camp has yet to launch any particularly effective attack, but the president is still at risk -- from those within his own party.

Several members of Chen's inner circle, including former close aides and advisers, have withdrawn their support. This development could ultimately result in a split in the pan-green camp.

Last Thursday, former senior presidential adviser Luis Kao (高志明) publicly urged Chen to step down for the sake of the pan-green camp. The next day, an open letter from former Academia Sinica president Lee Yuan-tseh (李遠哲) to Chen was released, asking him to consider resigning for the sake of the stability of the nation. Former Presidential Office secretary-general Chen Shih-meng (陳師孟) on Saturday called on Chen to temporarily step down.

Yesterday, DPP legislators Lee Wen-chung (李文忠) and Lin Cho-shui (林濁水) announced they were resigning from the legislature because they could not violate their political ideals by backing Chen, but that they also did not want to betray the DPP by supporting the third presidential recall motion.

Lin and Lee were important leaders of the DPP's New Tide faction. It will be interesting to see if their decision will have a domino effect among their former faction colleagues and/or lead to the creation of a new anti-Chen force.

Chen Shui-bian believes that the root of the "state affairs fund" scandal is a flawed system, the result of inconsistencies between accounting and auditing bodies. Chen has taken this line in his defense against the attacks on him by the pan-blue camp and former DPP chairman Shih Ming-teh's (施明德) red-clad supporters. However, this stance is unlikely to prevent a worsening of the situation.

Chen must think carefully about his next move. If he decides to fight until the end, he must immediately convene a meeting of the DPP's Central Executive Committee. Party members and legislators must engage in frank and open dialogue and find a way for Chen and the DPP to handle the scandal that will do the least possible damage to the party and government.

Chen must also consider the enormous and unprecedented uncertainty in Taiwanese politics that his departure would present, be it through resignation or temporary leave. For the sake of political and social stability, as well as cross-strait and international security, it's all the more important for Chen and the DPP to have a comprehensive plan mapped out to avoid more turmoil.

This is a difficult choice, but Chen needs to make the right decision and soon. Otherwise the crisis will escalate.

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