It's about time for someone within the Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) inner circle to do what Spain's King Juan Carlos did to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and tell President Chen Shui-bian (
Chen, back on the campaign trail in recent weeks after being reinstalled as DPP chairman, has been traveling the nation stumping for the party's legislative candidates at a series of rallies.
But instead of raising the profile and chances of the party's candidates, all Chen has managed to do is focus the media spotlight on himself with a series of foolish remarks.
A few weeks ago he crossed the line when in an attempt to highlight Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou's (
Shortly after that, he thought it clever to hit back at a heckler with some snide remarks, only serving to spark a wave of copycat attacks and further damage his image and that of his administration.
And just the other day, while at a campaign rally in Shulin (
Whether he was serious or not, raising the specter of martial law was not a wise thing to do. While this kind of fiery rhetoric may strike a chord with hardcore DPP supporters, it is guaranteed to have the opposite effect on more moderate voters -- from whom the party needs support if it is to stand any chance of success in the legislative and presidential elections.
If Chen carries on in this vein he will probably help to ensure a repeat of the 2004 legislative election debacle, when his misguided campaigning arguably contributed to the party losing its best and -- given the new electoral system -- possibly only chance for some time of gaining a legislative majority.
There has been talk of a conflict of interest over Chen acting as party chairman and president, but Chen is not the first person to hold the two positions simultaneously. Former president Lee Teng-hui (
Not only has Chen's behavior hurt the DPP's chances, but it has also resulted in the party's presidential candidate, Frank Hsieh (
It is unclear if this is a strategy to shield Hsieh from expected opposition attacks, but Hsieh needs to emerge from Chen's shadow sooner rather than later if he is to convince voters to back him in March. If the DPP loses badly in January, by then it could be too late.
As a powerful figure, it is difficult to see how Chen can be brought into line. But someone close to the president needs to have the courage to take him to one side and tell him to start putting his brain into gear before he opens his mouth and that he is quickly becoming an electoral liability.
A recent poll showed that a majority of voters are undecided on their choice for president. Chen therefore needs to start saying things that will convince people to choose the DPP, not spouting risible remarks that will send them running to the opposition.