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Taiwan President's Popularity Sinks to New Low

A newspaper poll in Taiwan shows President Chen Shui-bian's popularity sinking to a record low. The president has faced an inceasing attack from his political opponents since his re-election last year.

A bribery scandal involving a presidential aide appears to be taking its toll on Taiwan's president and his Democratic People's Party or DPP.

A poll conducted by the pro-opposition United Daily News and published Sunday finds President Chen Shui-bian's popularity falling to a record low of 25 percent, down nine points from last year.

Mr. Chen was narrowly re-elected last year for a second four-year term. He defeated a candidate fielded by the Kuomintang or KMT, which held power on the island from 1949, when Nationalist forces fled from mainland China at the end of the civil war until the 2000 election.

The KMT was traditionally viewed as vehemently anti-communist but authoritarian and corrupt. The DPP, an illegal group until 1987 when martial law ended, was seen as the clean party.

But recently, perceptions have changed, with the KMT more sympathetic to eventual reunification with mainland China, and accusing the DPP of advocating independence and being corrupt and ineffectual.

National Taiwan University political science professor says the deep animosity between the opposition, led by the KMT, and the governing coalition, headed by the DPP, overshadows just about any public policy or national security matter.

"They thought that the pan-Green, or at least Chen Shui-bian and his crowd stole the presidency from them through lies and through fabrications and through other things," said Professor Ming Chu-cheng. "So they think Chen Sui-bian is no longer trustworthy - whatever he says is unreal, untrue. So there is a very strong distrust between the two."

The latest crisis for the Chen administration involves a mass transit system under construction in Taiwan's second-largest city, Kaohsiung.

The scandal erupted nearly two months ago when a group of subway construction workers from Thailand rioted, alleging inhumane working conditions.

Prosecutors are investigating whether brokers paid bribes to government officials to employ the foreign laborers.

Further complicating matters for President Chen is that the mass transit project was begun when Taiwan's Premier Frank Hsieh, appointed by the president, was mayor of Kaohsiung.

Mr. Chen on Saturday told reporters he trusts Mr. Hsieh but he has consented to the formation of an independent panel to look into the allegations.