DPP warned it could sink with Chen

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 September, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 September, 2006, 12:00am

Analyst questions party's 'blind support' for Taiwanese leader

Scandal-plagued Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian's plight worsened this week after he admitted wrongly using receipts to account for spending of special state funds.

For weeks opponents have been calling for him to resign. Now analysts say that if he were found guilty of forgery, he might face demands even from within the ruling Democratic Progressive Party to step down. If the DPP, which struggled for 17 years to emerge as the ruling party, continued backing him, the political fallout would be enough to ruin it, one analyst said.

At issue is whether the president can abuse the law by wrongly using receipts to account for part of the spending of Taiwan's Special State Affairs Fund. The fund, with an annual budget of around NT$50 million (HK$12 million), is for the president to spend. Part of the money is for secret diplomatic spending and no receipts are required. The remainder is classified as special funding. These payments require receipts.

'The problem is the president is well aware that it is wrong to use unrelated receipts to account for spending, yet he still does it,' said lawyer Wei Chien-feng, who has joined former DPP chairman Shih Ming-teh in a campaign to depose Mr Chen for alleged corruption.

Mr Chen, who is being investigated for the alleged embezzlement of NT$36 million in state funds, admitted on Tuesday during a visit to Palau that his office had wrongly used receipts to account for part of the spending. Further investigation by prosecutors also implicated the president's wife, Wu Shu-chen.

According to prosecutor Chang Wen-cheng, secretary-general of the High Prosecutor's Office's anti-corruption centre, Ms Wu admitted under questioning last month that she had helped the president by gathering receipts to account for part of the spending on secret diplomatic missions.

Ms Wu was already under investigation over allegations she accepted NT$5 million in department-store gift vouchers in exchange for lobbying favours. She has vehemently denied any wrongdoing in that case.

In a statement released by the Presidential Office at midnight on Wednesday, just two hours after Mr Chen returned from Palau - and before Mr Chang held a news conference on Thursday about the case - the president admitted he had been questioned by prosecutors at his office on August 7. At that time, he said he had told them he did not put any money into his own pockets.

Still, Mr Chang said prosecutors had warned the first couple the embezzlement allegations would 'very likely' result in fraud charges, and some Taiwanese newspapers have described the president and first lady as 'potential defendants'.

Yesterday, opposition Kuomintang lawmakers called on former DPP chairman Lin Yi-hsiung to urge Mr Chen to resign. Mr Lin is the party's most respected figure.

'Mr Lin should come out to say something now that Chen Shui-bian has admitted wrongdoing,' said KMT lawmaker Hou Tsai-feng.

DPP chairman You Shyi-kun said the campaign against Mr Chen was a plot by politicians 'who want [mainland] China to swallow up Taiwan'. But analysts said if the DPP continued siding with the president, it would be doomed.

'The popularity of the party has plummeted to a low of 18 per cent because of its support for the president. Now that Mr Chen has admitted misusing the receipts, people will get more upset if the party continues to stand by him,' said George Tsai, research fellow at the Institute of International Relations.

'Their anger will be reflected in the year-end mayoral polls in Taipei and Kaohsiung, and very possibly the DPP will suffer a serious defeat in next year's legislative elections if the party continues its blind support for Mr Chen,' he said.