Where's the Oust-Chen Campaign Headed?

Protestors shout slogans at a rally in front of the Presidential Office in Taipei. (Photo: Sam Yeh / AFP-Getty Images)

Tainted by allegations of corruption and shady dealings of his family and key staffers, since mid-year Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian has faced an escalating campaign seeking to unseat him. A weeklong protest, culminating in a 300,000-strong rally on Sept. 15 on the doorstep of the president's office in Taipei, has taken the campaign to a new high.

Chen has shown no signs of prematurely ending his presidential term, which is due to last until May 2008. Even in the event of criminal prosecutions, he could still hide behind presidential immunity. Though there's not yet proof of wrongdoing on Chen's part, he has made public apologies on no less than three occasions in recent months as the allegations progressively surfaced.

There are undoubtedly rumblings within the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (D.P.P.), of which Chen was the chairperson until December 2004 and is still a key leader, but officially the party still strongly backs Chen.

Along with smaller-scale actions in Taiwan's south — Chen's home base — the D.P.P. organized a pro-Chen counter-rally outside the presidential office on Sept. 16, which an estimated 200,000 people attended. However, the oust-Chen campaign is reportedly littered with ex-D.P.P. activists and current rank-and-file D.P.P. members.

Shih Ming-teh, a former D.P.P. chairperson, has led the latest oust-Chen campaign, which has used mass mobilizations as a key means to exert pressure.

This is different from the June initiative led by the Kuomintang (the Nationalist Party, or K.M.T.) and its splinter-turned-ally People's First Party (P.F.P.), which sought to obtain a parliamentary recall of Chen's presidency. For such a motion to succeed, it requires 148 votes in the 255-seat parliament. But the K.M.T.-P.F.P. and allies (known in Taiwan as the "Blue Camp") have so far mustered only 119 votes.

Two days into the seven-day protest, Shih made a call for a national strike — which was carried as front-page news in at least one major national daily — to be the next tactic against Chen.

The trade union movement hasn't rejected the call, but has expressed concern over laws outlawing strikes for reasons other than narrowly defined economic issues such as wages and conditions. However, unions may yet take up the offer and use this rare opening to challenge the repressive laws barring political strikes.

On Sept. 16, Shih vowed to take the oust-Chen protests to five other cities across the island, including Taoyuan, Taichung, Tainan, Kaohsiung, and Hualien.

The D.P.P. faces a dilemma over its continuing support for Chen. Chen has been the party's trump card since 1994 when he became mayor of Taipei, the capital. That dependency deepened when Chen won the presidency in 2000 and after his successful, though razor-thin, March 2004 re-election.

In the lead-up to the December 2004 legislative election, the D.P.P. and Chen campaigned hard, seeking to win at least half of the 225 seats. But the D.P.P. and its allies (known as the "Green Camp") secured only 101 seats, compared to the Blue Camp's 113. In the name of taking responsibility for this defeat, Chen resigned as D.P.P. chairperson. However, behind the scenes there may have been a D.P.P. move to dissociate the party from Chen, who by law can't seek re-election as president after two terms anyway.

Without a doubt, the December 2004 election was a vote of poor confidence in Chen and the D.P.P. In March 2004, there was little sign that Chen would be re-elected, however he managed to scrape through with 50.1 percent of the vote, and that only after a dramatic and suspicious half-hearted assassination attempt on him and his vice presidential running mate on election eve. There was widespread speculation that the shooting was staged to generate sympathy for Chen and boost his vote.

A similar trend continued in the December 2005 elections of county mayors and councilors, and town chiefs. The Blue Camp increased their mayorships from 11 to 16, while the Green Camp's plunged from 10 to 6.

The Dec. 9 election of the mayors of Taipei and Kaohsiung, the two most important cities in Taiwan, will be the next gauge of oust-Chen/anti-D.P.P. sentiment. If the D.P.P. continues to support Chen, there will be no way to differentiate the two sentiments in the election.

Formed 20 years ago on the back of an anti-dictatorship movement targeting the then-ruling K.M.T., the D.P.P. promised to stand for democracy and a clean government. Its members braved repression to found the party on Sept. 28, 1986. Since 1949, Taiwan had been under martial law, which ended only in 1987.

Six years into Chen's presidency, Chen and the D.P.P. have not made a substantial difference to the lives of Taiwanese working people. The D.P.P. has never aspired to a program that would address the needs of the country's working-class majority.

Chen has relied heavily on a radical pro-independence strategy during his presidency, provoking Beijing on various occasions. The predictable intimidating reactions unified people behind the president for a short time. Beijing would be happy to see Chen go and has been unusually quiet during the oust-Chen campaign, no doubt watching how it unfolds.

At the Sept. 15 anti-Chen rally, an organizer described Taiwan as the "Taiwan nation" from the stage, attracting the audience's immediate disapproval. This could be a rejection of the high risk involved in provoking Beijing — or it could be that the crowd had little aspiration to formally become a Taiwan nation.

From Green Left Weekly.