Fri, Nov 30, 2007 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Time to rein in the loose cannon

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 (陳水扁) to shut up.

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 (馬英九) faux localization effort, he attacked Ma over the inscription on his father's urn.

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 (樹林), Taipei County, Chen raised a few eyebrows when he told the crowd that he was considering imposing martial law if the KMT did not back down on its threat to implement two-step voting in areas under its control during legislative elections.

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 (李登輝) managed to perform both roles without a problem; indeed, doing so was critical for reforming the KMT. The only precedent Chen has set has been with the stupidity of his remarks.

Not only has Chen's behavior hurt the DPP's chances, but it has also resulted in the party's presidential candidate, Frank Hsieh (謝長廷), becoming more of a peripheral figure.

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.

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