Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Taiwan in Dire Straits

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Taiwan in Dire Straits

Article excerpt

A scandal-driven storm has greatly polarized Taiwan society. Washington should keep a closer eye on it before a perfect storm develops in the Taiwan Straits between China and the island nation.

The governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is embroiled in a long-standing confrontation with the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) on whether the president should resign over alleged corruption within the first family. This dispute could be easily ignored except for the possible implications beyond Taiwan.

The corruption allegations focus first on the first lady, Wu Shu- chen, who reportedly received vouchers valued at more than $150,000 from a department store. Meanwhile, Chao Chien-ming, the president's son-in-law, and his parents and siblings, are under investigation for alleged insider trading and bribery. The charges are serious enough that Ma Ying-jeou, the KMT chairman, appealed to President Chen Shui-bian to resign to avoid being forced to step down. Anti- Chen protests were held June 10, and a few days later the KMT presented a motion in parliament to recall the president. The KMT lacks the two-thirds majority to pass the measure, but it is calling for massive protests on June 27, the day of the recall vote.

In 2000, Mr. Chen became Taiwan's first non-KMT president since the KMT took over the island in 1949. The KMT, it is widely believed, was voted out of office because of rampant corruption. However, since Chen's DPP took office, both he and the party have been dogged by charges of corruption.

In the inaugural address for his second term in 2004, Chen pledged "to unify the people of Taiwan." Ironically, it seems, the Taiwan people are now uniting against him.

This political chaos has three implications.

First, Taiwan could become a failed democracy. According to a recently released poll, Chen's approval ratings have plunged to 16 percent, a record low for any president. On May 20 of this year, the fifth anniversary of Chen's presidency, he apologized to the nation for the wrongdoings of his relatives and top officials, and promised an open and thorough investigation. However, days later, he blasted the opposition's recall as "blatant political interference with the judiciary. …

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