Turning the Tables in Taiwan

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When Taiwan's first lady Wu Shu-chen was indicted on corruption and forgery charges on Nov. 3, opponents of President Chen Shui-bian lit fireworks and popped champagne corks, sure that his resignation would soon follow. That celebration is now looking premature. Over the past three weeks Chen has shored up support among members of his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP); last Friday, DPP lawmakers thwarted — for the third time — a recall motion that would have triggered a national referendum on Chen's ouster.

Even better for the embattled President, someone else's woes are for once dominating the news. Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou, party chairman of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) and a likely 2008 presidential candidate, was forced to admit on Nov. 15 that an aide had forged receipts when tallying mayoral expenses. Ma also spent last Thursday morning being questioned by prosecutors over expense money Ma says went to charitable donations, but which his adversaries have accused him of keeping for himself. DPP lawmakers were the first to lodge an official complaint over Ma's expense accounts in August, and they have hammered the mayor over the issue in regular press conferences. While Ma has denied any wrongdoing in either case, the resulting media coverage has been intense. "The unraveling of the mismanaging of special funds in Mayor Ma's office has effectively balanced the pressure with Chen's alleged corruption," says Andrew Yang, secretary general of the Taipei-based Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies. "That's a very clever tactical shift by the DPP." For now, Chen's foes may have to keep their champagne on ice.