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June 10, 2006

The Dubya of the East

(Posted by John.)

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Some 20,000 Taiwanese demonstrated in the capital Saturday, demanding the president resign over allegations some of his relatives engaged in insider trading.

The protest was part of an opposition campaign for a referendum to oust President Chen Shui-bian, whose term ends in 2008....

Although Chen has not been personally implicated in any wrongdoing, opposition leaders say he has lost the dignity to function as president. They have called on him to resign to spare the island more unrest.

"If a president isn't fit to rule, you can recall him. He doesn't have to commit a criminal act," said Ma Ying-Jeou, leader of the main opposition Nationalist Party.

Imagine that.  Chen even has Bush-like approval ratings, with only 34% of Taiwanese saying he should complete his term.  Another poll says Chen has an approval rating of just 28%, meaning there's at least one leader in the world who envies Bush's popularity.  Almost enough to make me believe in Intelligent Design.  There are more important issues in the Taiwan straits, of course.

I'm not terribly sure-footed around Taiwanese politics, but the more I read it seems like Chen is caught in the middle between his pro-independence supporters on the one hand, and the fact that any formal attempt at independence would be a disaster for Taiwan on the other.  This forces Chen to be nominally pro-independence to appease his base, but unable to deliver substantively on this front for fear of the harm it would do to him and Taiwan.

Sound familiar?

If I were the Nationalists I wouldn't be using this tactic, however.  Chen is far more useful in office, where he and his party are unlikely to recover.  This would set the stage for a "pan-blue" victory in 2008, just a few months before the Beijing Olympics.

A Nationalist President of Taiwan would take an immense load off of everyone's mind in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, given that the main fear among some circles has been the DPP (Chen's party) would declare formal independence.  This, the theory goes, would prevent China from retaliating against Taiwan and ruin their Olympics.  The fact that Beijing has said subduing Taiwan is more important than the Olympics has apparently not dimmed the enthusiasm for this idea.

Were Chen to leave office, of course, its possible the DPP could recover their popularity and win the Presidency again, despite the recent gains by the Nationalists in the Legislative Yuan.  My sentiment would be to leave Chen there and have him taint the DPP.  After all, the Democrats are trying to keep Tom Delay on the ballot.  The same principle should work here, shouldn't it?

June 10, 2006 | Permalink


I have lived in Taiwan for many years and can tell you the politics here are every bit as divisive as the U.S. It gets very little coverage in the U.S. (other than the occasional fistfights in parliament) but it is quite colorful. Just a few points that may be of interest to you:
a) Chen was re-elected in 2004 by an even slimmer margin than Bush. What got him over the hump was an assassination attempt the night before the election that won him some sympathy votes. Although he was actually shot many people were convinced the entire thing was staged. For the subsequent investigation they brought in O.J. Simpson trial expert Dr. Henry Lee to head the investigation. I think even Kennedy assassination veteran Cyril Wecht was brought in as well. The only thing missing was Oliver Stone. When they finally figured out who did it a couple of years later the suspect allegedly offed himself.
b) Unlike the U.S. there are very few if any social issues dividing the two parties. The death penalty, abortion, church/state divide are really non factors. The only real issues here are independence and good governance. As in the U.S. there is a great deal of official corruption. Whichever party attains power seems to have great talent at misusing it. While almost everyone in Taiwan is pro independance most don't want to roil China and prefer the de facto independence they enjoy now. Chen's biggest problem (until the recent corruption problems) has been his periodic rattling of China's cage. Very similar to Bush with his bi annual gay baiting.
c) What makes Chen's unpopularity so surprising is that 85% of Taiwan is native born Taiwanese, Chen's natural constituency. The opposition KMT party comes from the descendants of the mainland chinese who came over after WWII who are nominally pro unification. It takes quite an effort to become as unpopular as Chen when you have such a large built in advantage.

Posted by: robertl | Jun 10, 2006 7:30:58 PM

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