December 4, 2005

Hard road seen for Taiwan’s Chen after elections

By Michael Kramer

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian is in
danger of becoming a lame duck for the remaining 2- years of
his term after his party's crushing defeat in local government
elections, political commentators said on Sunday.

Chen's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), damaged by a
corruption scandal, won just six of 23 mayoral and county
magistrate posts in Saturday's polls, with the rest going to
the opposition Nationalist Party (Kuomintang or KMT) and its

Analysts say a chastened DPP may make some concessions,
such as agreeing to the business sector's demand for lower
trade and investment barriers with China, but more decisive
policy moves may take a back seat to cleaning house and dealing
with an emboldened opposition.

"Chen Shui-bian will be a lame duck," said Philip Yang, a
political scientist at National Taiwan University. "It was a
no-confidence vote in Chen Shui-bian."

The president has been under pressure to reconcile with
China and improve economic ties with the mainland, Taiwan's
biggest export market, where the island's companies are
estimated to have poured in over $100 billion in investments.

But China, which claims sovereignty over Taiwan, has
refused to deal with the independence-leaning Chen and is
likely to continue to ignore him, analysts said.

"These local elections will not change the economic
environment and cross-strait relations will not change
overnight," said Wu Ying-long, vice president of Masterlink
Securities, a local brokerage.

"It is just that the market expects the DPP to rethink its
policies and create a new mood ... We expect there will be a
celebration rally in Taiwan stocks on Monday," Wu said.


Analysts said the DPP could not afford to warm too much to
China as election losses in several traditional strongholds,
including the island's largest constituency, Taipei County,
pointed to already eroding support among former diehards.

"If you go for a relaxation of cross-strait relations, it's
no good for the basic green voters and those voters are the
only basis they have left," said Yang. Green is the DPP party

While the DPP still had time to reclaim voter trust before
the 2008 presidential race, analysts said its clean reputation
had been soiled by scandals such as a corruption probe into a
subway project in Kaohsiung City involving Chen's former deputy
chief of staff.

"The results of this election run deep," said Taiwan's
Apple Daily in an editorial. "Chen Shui-bian has become a lame
duck inside and outside the party, and the United States and
China will ignore him until a new president is elected in

"Taiwan is fated to spin its wheels without any traction
for the next two years," the newspaper said.

By contrast, KMT leader Ma Ying-jeou, a former justice
minister with a squeaky-clean record, has done much to improve
the party's old image as a group grown rich on back-room deals.

Saturday's election victory puts Ma in first place for the
2008 race, political commentators said.

"In the past, Ma Ying-jeou has been jeered for being
obsessive in his insistence on promises and the law," the China
Times said. "But his special qualities have made him a target
for the hopes of people disappointed by today's politics."