Thu, Nov 01, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Chen and the sins of Ma's father

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was described by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) official Lai I-chung (賴怡忠) at a recent press briefing as far and away the party's best campaigner.

This is arguably the case. Over the years Chen has proven indefatigable on the hustings and a formidable opponent for those without his energy. The 2004 presidential election showed that Chen could appeal to millions of voters who had voted against the DPP in local elections.

One problem with Chen -- and it has been this way from the first days of his presidency -- is his faltering sense of strategy. There have been myriad examples of Chen building momentum on an issue, only to blow it all on inexplicable actions and turns of phrase that alienated allies and fortified enemies.

Today, we are beginning to see this self-destructive behavior re-emerge just in time for the legislative and presidential elections thanks to an ill-advised broadside against Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), based on the words of Ma's late father engraved on his urn allegedly supporting China's unification.

This is specious and repulsive politicking on Chen's part. Worryingly for the DPP, Chen seems unaware that attacks on politicians for the perceived sins of their parents can backfire badly.

It is bizarre that Chen would adopt a strategy based on indecent assumptions of family accountability when Ma's track record -- the things Ma has done for which he is solely responsible -- is fodder enough for political purposes.

Chen rightfully took responsibility for the single most damaging event to his government: the failure to capture the legislature in late 2004. He did so by resigning the party chairmanship -- a move that was highly appropriate considering that the loss was a strategic debacle. The DPP treated the poll like a presidential election, focusing on cross-strait sloganeering instead of local candidates and developing strategies for the then multiple-member districts.

Now Chen is chairman again, and the results so far have not been impressive. DPP presidential candidate Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) seems not to have received Chen's full support, and with this disconnect comes the potential for bad errors and lack of coordination.

Instead of concentrating on the fate of DPP candidates, Chen is wasting his time sniping at Ma over what his father had engraved on his urn. This is even more laughable given that in the months before his death, Ma's father, Ma Ho-ling (馬鶴凌) -- perhaps out of ideological rigidity or just plain senility -- belittled his son for having the temerity to run for the KMT chairmanship.

How the "sins of the father" can be credibly employed in this situation defies reasonable analysis.

Chen has strayed into such politicking before, never more memorably than when he exploited the misuse of Taichung Mayor Jason Hu's (胡志強) medical records -- though Chen's imputation that US-born Taiwanese children were less worthy was just as fatuous.

Ma Ying-jeou himself has sunk so deep into the gutter lately that sympathy for him on this matter should be tempered. But that doesn't excuse Chen.

One thing a "lame duck" president can do is exert a positive influence on the political environment by maintaining personal integrity and reminding the public of fundamental questions: What is good for a country? What contributes to a more productive political discourse? And how should Taiwanese conduct themselves for the betterment of all?

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