Taiwan Leader Survives in Vote
Though Averting Impeachment, Chen Is Weakened by Scandal
By Jane Rickards
TAIPEI, Taiwan, Nov. 24 -- President Chen Shui-bian easily survived an impeachment vote in Taiwan's legislature Friday despite his wife's indictment on embezzlement charges and a prosecutor's statement that Chen could be indicted as well if he did not have presidential immunity.
The vote signaled that Chen, a combative champion of Taiwanese independence, is likely to remain in office until the end of his second four-year term in 2008 unless new irregularities are brought to light or new charges are filed.
But his mandate has been seriously undermined by the corruption indictment against his wife and similar indictments against his son-in-law and several senior aides. As a result, the political storm buffeting his leadership seemed unlikely to subside anytime soon.
The impeachment motion, brought by the opposition Nationalist Party, garnered 118 votes, 28 short of the 146 needed for a required two-thirds majority in the Legislative Yuan, or parliament. It was the third time since June that Chen's forces have defeated a recall motion, which if successful would precipitate a national referendum on whether the president should be ousted.
The tally indicated that most lawmakers from Chen's Democratic Progressive Party and the allied Taiwan Solidarity Union remained loyal to the president, despite widespread discontent over the embezzlement scandal, including among his most loyal followers.
Two Democratic Progressive Party lawmakers quit parliament 10 days ago to protest the way the corruption scandals were being handled. But the party threatened to expel any members who cast ballots for impeachment, and with their own political futures hanging in the balance, Democratic Progressive lawmakers closed ranks and all 83 boycotted the vote.
On Nov. 3, a high court prosecutor charged Chen's wife, Wu Shu-chen, with forging receipts and embezzling about $450,000 from the president's discretionary funds. At that time, the prosecutor made his statement about presidential immunity preventing an indictment of Chen.
Chen, in a televised speech two days later, argued that the money in question was used for "secret diplomatic work," suggesting it went to pay off foreign leaders and lobbyists to further Taiwan's quest for diplomatic recognition. The rules governing receipts for such expenditures are complicated and unclear, he maintained, and at no time did he divert money for his own use. He said he would resign only if his wife was convicted.
Chen did not explain how his wife came to be involved in gathering receipts for such expenditures. The two have worked closely together since they married in 1975 and struggled side by side during the 1980s for native Taiwanese rights during martial law under the Nationalist Party government.
Ma Yingjeou, the Nationalist leader and the party's putative candidate for president in 2008, has reaped political benefits from the uproar for the past six months. But over the last 10 days, Ma, who is mayor of Taipei, has himself been accused of misusing official funds and has been interrogated by prosecutors. While Ma has denied the allegations, he acknowledged that a clerk in his office forged receipts to claim expenses.
Chen said Friday that he respected the legislature's democratic right to attempt impeachment, provided it followed constitutional procedures. "Democracy is nothing more than freedom and the rule of law," he told Therese Shaheen, the visiting former head of the American Institute in Taiwan, the government-sponsored organization through which the United States maintains quasi-diplomatic representation in Taiwan.
Correspondent Edward Cody in Beijing contributed to this report.