Total Recall

The recent bid by major opposition parties to impeach President Chen Shui-bian has added a new twist to the sometimes Byzantine workings of the island’s government.This time, though, the question was not how best to handle cross-strait relations with mainland China but whether to continue construction of the country’s controversial fourth nuclear plant. The former ruling party, the Kuomintang Nationalist Party (KMT), reportedly has already spent more than 10 billion New Taiwan dollars (US$312.5 million) on the project.

The move to impeach Chen came after his announcement to scrap the power plant, which immediately followed a rare and long-awaited televised meeting between Chen and KMT chairman Lien Chan on Oct. 27 on the explosive issue. Irate over the loss of face, the KMT, along with People First Party and New Party legislators, pushed for a recall of Chen, Vice President Annette Lu, and the new Premier Chang Chun-hsiung, who replaced the former premier, the KMT’s Tang Fei, a staunch supporter of the nuclear plant, on Oct. 4.

Chang defended the anti-nuclear stance of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, saying that “the executive branch has done nothing illegal” and that the recall move was “the legislative body’s greatest abuse of power,” said a Nov. 8 report in Taipei’s independent China Times.

Meanwhile, the Beijing authorities, who had warned Taiwan against supporting a “splittist” troublemaker like Chen long before he was elected, watched the events unfold with apparent satisfaction. Hong Kong’s state-controlled Ta Kung Pao, a Chinese-language newspaper, called the Chen Shui-bian presidency an “infant...delivered prematurely by its mentor Lee Teng-hui, who, pressed by developments of the situation, used pituitary extract to hasten the delivery” (Nov. 1). Lee had come under fire from Beijing last year when he called for “state-to-state relations” between the two historical rivals.

According to the Taipei Central News Agency (Nov. 5), the latest public opinion poll found that approximately “64 percent of Taiwan’s citizens [were] opposed to the plan by opposition legislators to recall President Chen.” The same poll showed that only 19 percent were in favor of the move.

However, Chen publicly apologized for the poorly timed announcement, which mitigated some of the ire. KMT legislator Hung Hsing-rong, said the liberal Taipei Times (Nov. 8), suggested giving the ailing administration a one-month grace period. “As long as Chen stops being a dictator and shows respect for the legislature, we should give him a chance,” said Hung.

But what with former Premier Tang Fei’s resignation and the stock market’s index losing 40 percent of its value, even antinuclear Chen supporters are beginning to question the leadership abilities of their new president. In a Nov. 8 Taipei Times editorial, Wang Chien-chuang chastised the KMT for “over-react[ing]” to Chen’s decision, but also acknowledged Chen as a leader “with guts and heart, but no brains.”

“From the start, in fact, scrapping the plant should have been a good playing card,” he said. “What was unexpected was that this good card would be played so badly.”