Results of recent mayoral elections in Taiwan’s two largest cities must have come as some relief for President Chen Shui-bian and his ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Although the opposition Kuomintang or Nationalist Party (KMT) took the capital of Taipei — with Mr. Hau Lung-bin beating Mr. Frank Hsieh, a former premier, by a margin of 13 percentage points — the southern port city of Kaohsiung, a traditional DPP stronghold, remained that way as Ms. Chen Chu defeated the KMT’s Mr. Huang Jun-yin by a razor-thin 1,114 votes.
The shadow of corruption had been expected to hurt the DPP’s efforts. Still, its better-than-expected performance will not ease pressure on Mr. Chen to carry out party reform. On the other hand, the KMT’s defeat in Kaohsiung is likely to affect KMT leader Ma Ying-jeou’s ambitions for the 2008 presidential race.
Mr. Chen and the DPP have been in a deep crisis for more than six months because of corruption allegations leveled against his family and inner circle. In early November, high-court prosecutors charged Mr. Chen’s wife, son-in-law and several senior aides with embezzlement of government funds. Mr. Chen survived the opposition’s third impeachment attempt against him in the Legislative Yuan in November, but the possibility exists that he will face the same charges once he loses his presidential immunity when his term ends.
Despite the DPP’s win in the Kaohsiung mayoral election, it is safe to assume that Mr. Chen won’t be able to recover his former influence in the party and that rivalry among leading DPP members for the 2008 presidential race will intensify.
For his part, Mr. Ma will probably have a harder time gaining support as a presidential candidate because of his inability to take full advantage of the favorable pre-election conditions for his party. Moreover, there is a report that Mr. Ma, the outgoing Taipei mayor, may be indicted in connection with his use of special funds in the mayor’s office. He is likely to be challenged by other powerful KMT politicians. All told, Taiwan’s political situation appears more fluid.
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