Mon, Nov 06, 2006 - Page 3 News List

Presidential Office in crisis: Journey from political asset to liability

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

The indictment of first lady Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍) on corruption and forgery charges in connection with the handling of the president's state affairs fund has sent a political shockwave throughout the country.

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) himself is also suspected of graft and forgery but because of presidential immunity cannot be charged until he leaves office.

Wu has come under fire since May over a spate of allegations ranging from political improprieties to financial irregularities.

Although last month she was cleared of any wrongdoing in connection with Sogo Department Store's controversial transfer of operational control, her indictment on corruption and forgery charges on Friday raises the issue of the first lady's place in governmental affairs.

Wu, who has charmed the public with her down-to-earth straightforwardness, was considered a political asset when Chen was elected to the presidency in 2000.

She has since turned into a liability for Chen, however, with some criticizing her for having too much influence on policy.

It is an open secret that the couple disagreed over the replacement of then Tainan County commissioner Mark Chen (陳唐山).

President Chen had originally planned to recruit Mark Chen to head the National Science Council.

While President Chen had wanted Mark Chen's deputy to take over the commissioners' position left vacant, Wu preferred Su Huan-chih (蘇煥智), who once served as assistant to the president during his tenure as Taipei City councilor and a legislator.

Mark Chen later turned down the offer and decided to complete his term.

In a phone interview with the Taipei Times yesterday, Su said he believed Wu is innocent, taking into account Wu's family background.

Born into a well-off family in Madou (麻豆), Tainan County, in 1952, Wu did not know her life would change so dramatically after she started dating Chen in college.

Despite her family's objections, Wu married the then impoverished Chen in February 1975.

While the couple thought they would live a peaceful life with Chen practicing law, the 1979 "Kaohsiung Incident" altered their destiny and changed the course of Taiwan's democracy movement.

Wu encouraged Chen to commit himself to Taiwan's democratic development and supported his volunteering to defend Huang Hsin-chieh (黃信介), one of the accused in the "Kaohsiung Incident." Huang went on to become Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman in 1988.

Chen Shui-bian quit his law practice to enter politics in 1981 when he was elected as a Taipei City councilor.

In 1985, Chen Shui-bian lost a Tainan County commissioner election and shortly thereafter Wu was paralyzed from the waist down after being repeatedly run over by a truck in an assassination attempt whose perpetrator was never found.

In 1986, not long after Wu was discharged from hospital and at a time when she desperately needed the support of her family, Chen Shui-bian was sentenced to a year in prison for libel for publishing an article in the pro-democracy Formosa magazine in which he claimed that later New Party lawmaker Elmer Feng's (馮滬祥) doctoral dissertation plagiarized other work.

That same year, Wu ran in the legislative election and won. When Chen Shui-bian was released in February 1987, he served as Wu's legislative assistant until he himself was elected as a legislator in 1989.

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