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Taiwan's President Appoints Su as Prime Minister


Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian has appointed a former party chief as the island's new prime minister, as he tries to rebuild support for his Democratic Progressive Party.

The appointment of Su Tseng-chang as premier on Thursday had been widely expected.

The 59-year-old former chairman of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party will replace Frank Hsieh. He stepped down Tuesday to take responsibility for the party's overwhelming defeat in local elections last month.

The party's popularity has fallen as it has grappled with a rising unemployment rate and corruption scandals.

Emile Sheng is a political scientist at Soochow University in Taiwan's capital Taipei. He says President Chen Shui-bian picked Mr. Su because he is the D.P.P.'s most popular politician and could help put the party back on its feet.

"Both the party and the president himself need a fresh start with the public," he said. "So I think he is really forced to chose the most popular politician within the party in order to give people a fresh look at the party and try to re-establish the trust people have with the government."

Sheng believes, however, that major policy changes will be unlikely under Mr. Su, as the prime minister does not have much decision-making power.

One of the thorny issues Mr. Su will face is Taiwan's relationship with China. President Chen is known for his tough stance toward the mainland. In a controversial New Year's speech he made it clear he will continue to take steps to demonstrate Taiwan's autonomy. Mr. Su has been more moderate in his public statements on China.

Sheng says future relations with the mainland depend on Mr. Su's decisions on cabinet positions related to cross-straits issues.

China considers Taiwan its territory, although the island has been self-governing since 1949, when Nationalist forces fled there at the end of a civil war with the communists.

China has threatened to retake the island by force if the Taipei government moves toward full independence. The United States has called on both sides to avoid taking unilateral steps to change the status quo.

Mr. Su also is likely to face obstruction from the pro-China opposition Nationalist party, which controls the parliament. In recent months, the opposition had blocked many of the government's policy initiatives.

In his acceptance speech Thursday, the new premier acknowledged he will be in for a rough ride. He says he is willing to shoulder the responsibility and face the challenges, and promises to strive to be down to earth and honest.

Mr. Su is the fifth prime minister President Chen has appointed in the five years he has been in office. He is the most likely D.P.P. candidate in the next presidential elections in 2008. Mr. Chen is barred by law from serving another term.