May 31, 2006

Taiwan president cedes some powers to premier

By Lee Chyen Yee

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian has
ceded some powers to the premier in an attempt to deflect
growing pressure from supporters and opponents alike to resign
but media said on Thursday it was not enough.

Chen, whose approval rating has sunk to new lows after an
insider trading scandal implicated his son-in-law, said late on
Wednesday that Premier Su Tseng-chang would be wholly
responsible for appointing cabinet ministers and setting
government policy.

But Chen also said he would retain powers vested in him by
the constitution. What that meant was not immediately clear as
the constitution does not spell out those powers.

The Chinese-language United Daily News interpreted it to
mean Chen would hold on to the diplomatic and military
portfolios and overseeing ties with China, which claims
sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan.

"Chen Shui-bian should voluntarily quit the party to give
the Democratic Progressive Party a new lease on life," the
daily said in an editorial.

A China Times commentary said: "Becoming a mere figurehead
cannot quell the people's anger.

"The people had hoped that Chen would express regret, but
he did not. The people had hoped that he would explain clearly
what happened in those wrongdoings, but he did not," it said.

Taiwan's constitution does not spell out clearly whether
the island has a presidential or parliamentary system of

In the past, some premiers have acted as the president's
chief of staff and served only to carry out his wishes. Others
have taken on greater powers.

"The president said he is ceding powers that he is not
supposed to have in the first place according to the
constitution. So does this mean that he has been going against
the constitution and abusing his power?" opposition leader Ma
Ying-jeou asked.

"We ask him to be honest with the public and clarify
exactly what the first family has done," Ma told reporters.

Taiwan media said Chen's announcement may mean Premier Su
could be 100 percent his own man, leaving Chen as a lame duck
with two years to go before his second four-year term ends in
2008. The constitution bars Chen from running for a third term.

Shen Fu-hsiung, a former legislator, speculated that Su was
the front-runner to become the party's standard bearer in the
2008 presidential elections.

An opposition plan to oust Chen in a parliamentary vote
lacks the two-thirds majority needed to sack the president.

Chen's political woes worsened last Thursday when
son-in-law Chao Chien-ming was detained on suspicion of insider
trading -- the first time a member of Taiwan's first family has
been held on suspicion of breaking the law.

Chen has pledged to restrict his family members to charity
work in the future and not to take part in DPP functions.


(Additional reporting by Richard Dobson)