Vote to Oust Taiwan President Fails for Third Time

For a third time this year, a parliamentary vote to remove Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian from office has failed, but scandals surrounding Mr. Chen, his wife and his aides have not disappeared. VOA Seoul Correspondent Kurt Achin, who recently visited Taiwan, reports that Mr. Chen's job may be safe for now, but his political standing is in tatters.

Friday's parliamentary vote in Taipei fell well short of the two-thirds margin it needed to set up a national referendum on whether Chen Shui-bian should be removed from office as Taiwan's president.

Only 118 of Taiwan's 218 lawmakers supported the recall measure, less than the 146 needed.

Taiwan's opposition Kuomintang, or KMT, has engineered three recall votes since June, as scandal has engulfed President Chen.

Public discontent with the president reached a new peak earlier this month, when his wife and several aides were indicted on charges of embezzling at least $450,000 in public money for personal use. Prosecutors announced at that time that there was also evidence incriminating Mr. Chen, who cannot be prosecuted while in office.

Although Taiwan has ruled itself for more than half a century, Beijing claims the island as a renegade province, and has threatened to take it by force if Taipei formally declares independence.

Mr. Chen favors independence for Taiwan, and has pushed the island in that direction, although stopping short of a formal declaration. Emile Sheng, a political science professor at Taipei's Soochow University, says Mr. Chen's opponents may not be upset that Friday's recall failed, because he has been politically weakened by the process.

"Ironically, Beijing as well as Kuomintang sort of wanted President Chen to finish his term - because that is really the safe bet," said Sheng. "If President Chen remains in office, there is no way the independence movement can gain momentum."

Mr. Chen's Democratic Progressive Party, the DPP, rallied around him and refused to back the latest recall motion. But a DPP hobbled by the corruption allegations could be much easier for the Kuomintang to challenge in 2008, when presidential elections are scheduled.

The Democratic Progressive Party will soon have a chance to gauge whether its support for Mr. Chen has hurt the party. Mayoral elections are scheduled for early December in Taiwan's two biggest cities, Taipei and Kaohsiung. Professor Sheng says the voting results could force DPP members to reassess that support.

"If DPP lost in both elections, then that is when DPP politicians would seriously consider about themselves - with this president still sitting in office, they are going to lose every election," Sheng added. "So in order to save themselves, they would have to deal with the president first."

President Chen says he has done nothing wrong. He admits falsifying some official paperwork and telling what he calls "white lies" about his expenditures, but he says his actions were in Taiwan's national interest. He says he will resign, however, if his wife is found guilty in court.