Mon, Jun 21, 2004 - Page 3 News List

Chen seeks to rise above party political fray

By Lin Chieh-yu  /  STAFF REPORTER

President Chen Shui-bian has decided to resign his post as chairman of the DPP after the December legislative elections in order to adopt a detached and neutral position from which to push for constitutional change, but this has prompted criticism both from inside and outside the party that he goes back on his word from one day to the next.

But analysts say that the purpose of Chen's strategy lies in considering the balance of power within the party and arrangements for a succession.

"With factionalism within the party becoming more and more intense, and the New Tide faction dominating, President Chen worries that, in two years' time, as the party prepares to fight the 2008 presidential election, there will be even more ferocious in-fighting, even leading to a split," a top aide to the president said.

"As a result he must plan ahead and organize personnel appropriately," said one of the president's close advisors, "and the president simply needs to give up his party work, to vacate that post, so that, first, he can expand his role as a detached arbitrator and second, so that those who wish to succeed him get more experience and a higher profile."

Senior political columnist and analyst Hu Wen-huei said that, on the face of it, Chen's withdrawal from party affairs and return to the lofty position of "president for all the people," that he announced four years ago, may help him to promote constitutional reform next year from a position above party and factional politics.

But, he said, the president's constantly changing position on the separation or combination of the ruling party and the government can only damage his standing as head of state.

Looking back over Chen's administration, said Hu, because of the carrying out of tasks by stages and constant changes in methods, there have been many flip-flops and 180-degree changes in policy, among which one of those leaving the deepest impression has been on the question of whether the president should serve concurrently as party chairman.

"When President Chen was first elected in 2000, he strongly criticized the former KMT government for placing the party at the forefront of government affairs and making the party all-important," Hu said.

In order to attract middle-ground voters, Chen agreed, if elected, to withdraw from party affairs and, indeed, following his election on March 18th 2000, he proclaimed himself a "president for all the people" and withdrew from the committees dealing with party affairs.

But because the new government lacked administrative experience and because Chen faced a lot of obstacles imposed by the opposition parties, Chen refused to share power with his party colleagues, giving DPP legislators an excuse to attack the Executive Yuan, to the extent that the party's central organs have seriously drawn into question the competence of the cabinet.

"Internal and external pressure for him to stand down have rendered Chen unable to push his agenda and forced him to modify his position and gradually restore support for the party system and his own party's factions," said Hu.

In July 2002, at the party National Party Congress, the president's staff and the party's main faction leaders reached a consensus that the party's charter would be changed to the effect that "a party member who becomes president has an unfettered right to serve concurrently as party chairman."

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