Tue, Sep 30, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Analysts see Chen attempting to shift focus from record

EARLY CAMPAIGNING The president promised to rewrite the Constitution in an attempt to divert the public's attention from his record, observers said

By Lin Chieh-yu  /  STAFF REPORTER

President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) promise to rewrite the Constitution in 2006 has fueled further tension between supporters of independence and unification which, political observers said, the president hopes to use as a base for a presidential election campaign on "national identity," thereby shifting the focus from the government's poor record.

"Although the backlash from conservatives and vested interests may be partly blamed for many of the recent protests and criticism of the government's public policies ... it is unquestionable that the ruling party has tried to initiate the debate between independence and unification to avoid being trapped on public issues," said Ku Chung-hwa (顧忠華), president of the Taipei Society.

During an interview with the Taipei Times in June 1999, Chen, then the DPP's presidential candidate, had vowed to "rewrite the Constitution" by changing the name and the territory of the country. The Constitution states that the nation's territory still includes China.

However, as the election drew near he avoided the issue and then declared the "Five Noes" in his inaugural speech: no declaration of independence; no change in the nation's title; no referendum to change the status quo; no incorporating "special state-to-state" in the Constitution and no abandoning the National Reunification Council.

"Comparing his remarks about the cross-strait relationship during the past four years, Chen first brought up `a new framework for the future integration of the two sides of the Taiwan Strait' and invited Beijing leaders for a talk, but he then pledged that Taiwan should work out its own way and suggested `one country on each side' and now he intends to rewrite the Constitution," Ku said, "All this shows that President Chen's cross-strait policies are very inconsistent.

"The president seems to believe that everybody is expecting him to give details about how he is going to rewrite the Constitution, so he may dominate public opinion, but the problem is whether the public really cares about the issue, or maybe they care more about their livelihoods," Ku said.

Senior political columnist Hu Wen-huei (胡文輝) said that it does not matter whether the press supports or questions the president's determination to carry out the promise.

"As long as the debates about public policies are replaced by the issue of independence and unification, the DPP and President Chen will meet their strategic target," Hu said. "Even if it is not a plus to the campaign, it will definitely not get any minus points.

"President Chen's remarks about rewriting the Constitution basically are based on the assumption that there are only a few `non-biased voters' and most of the voters have already made up their minds, so how to mobilize the enthusiasm of supporters is important," Hu said.

"That is why the president did not evade the issue and instead he has tried to make use of the high-level issue to separate the voters into two major groups and seek support from the remaining 5 percent to 10 percent of undecided voters by calling on grassroots leaders," Hu said.

An aide to Chen confirmed that the president will visit several grassroots opinion leaders to exchange views.

"It is better to create friendship first, so we may have a chance for further cooperation," he said.

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