Mon, May 29, 2006 - Page 3 News List

Chen's reputation tainted by numerous recent scandals

AP , TAIPEI

The president's son-in-law is detained on suspicion of insider trading. His wife is accused of receiving free vouchers from an upscale department store. A senior official is investigated for taking kickbacks on a lucrative construction project.

It's been a bad couple of months for President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), who came to power in 2000 on pledges to clean up government after 50 years of corruption-tainted rule by the once-dominant Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).

Chen is mainly known abroad for his efforts to push the envelope on Taiwanese independence, and distance the nation politically and culturally from China.

But at home, Chen is increasingly viewed as a throwback to the worst of the Nationalists, a self-interested politician bent on improving his lot -- and that of his family -- at public expense.

He now registers approval ratings in the 20 percent range -- the lowest in his six years in office -- and when the next presidential elections are held in 2008, his Democratic Progressive Party is widely expected to be defeated.

Its replacement would be none other than the same nationalists who in a half century of uninterrupted rule earned a well deserved reputation for greasy palms and overflowing bank accounts.

But KMT Chairman and prospective presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) insists those days are gone, promising a new era of cleanliness and probity in public life.

Skeptics wonder if Ma can follow through on his promise. They ask if the same Chinese political culture the KMT brought to the overwhelmingly ethnic Chinese population of Taiwan in 1949 isn't itself prone to graft.

After all, they say, in China corruption is a way of life, an inescapable part of relations between the people and their rulers.

Political scientist Emile Sheng (盛治仁) of Soochow University rejects this point of view. He says the case of Singapore -- the Southeast Asian city state with a majority Chinese population and an enviable reputation for clean government -- proves that Chinese societies and political integrity can easily coexist.

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