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Taiwan President's Party Rallies Around Him, Ensuring His Future for Now


Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian's political party is standing behind him following accusations of fraud and embezzlement, ensuring Mr. Chen keeps his job for now. But President Chen's political woes are far from over.

Members of Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party, or DPP, said Wednesday they will not back an opposition recall motion aimed at forcing President Chen Shui-bian out of office - effectively eliminating any chance of the motion's success.

Months of pressure on Mr. Chen to resign reached a new peak on Friday, when prosecutors indicted his wife, Wu Shu-chen, for embezzling at least $450,000 of public money to spend on personal luxury items. They also announced there was enough evidence to implicate Mr. Chen directly.

Mr. Chen has admitted falsifying receipts and speaking "white lies", but insists his actions were necessary, and should be confidential in the interest of Taiwan security.

Following the party meeting, DPP lawmaker Yu Shyi-kun said the party has decided to take Mr. Chen at his word.

He says Mr. Chen promised to resign if his wife is convicted. That, says Yu, is enough - and further action by the DPP is not required. While in office, Mr. Chen remains immune from prosecution.

Members of the opposition Kuomintang, or KMT, say the DPP's decision comes as no surprise. Ma Ying-jeou, Taipei Mayor and KMT Chairman, says his party will keep trying to end his presidency.

He says the party still has time and options for pressuring Mr. Chen.

Though the KMT has ruled out attempting to impeach Mr. Chen, there is no legal limit to the putting forward of recall motions. The pending motion, scheduled for November 24, will be the third such attempt this year.

Political Science Professor Emile Sheng at Taipei's Soochow University specializes in voter behavior.

He says about 60 percent of Taiwan residents would like Mr. Chen to leave office, but the DPP speaks for a 20 percent minority who support the president.

"It's very difficult for DPP legislators to come out and vote against him [Chen]," he said. "Although they are the minority of the Taiwan population as a whole, they are a majority of the DPP's core supporters. That's the dilemma that they're facing."

Sheng says in the long run, the Chen corruption scandal can be seen as healthy for Taiwan.

"I think this is what I would like to call growing pain. For a young democracy to mature, I think this is something we have to experience at one point or another," he said. "In the past, these charismatic leaders like Chen Shui-bian - they were idolized, as gods, and nobody questioned their integrity... we hope that after this period, Taiwanese people can judge politicians on their own qualities."

Even though he has held on to his job, political experts say Mr. Chen's image and credibility are in tatters. Mayoral and regional elections are scheduled for next month -- but very few DPP candidates have requested Mr. Chen's presence at campaign events.

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