IF ANYONE should take the flak for the battering suffered by the ruling party yesterday, it should be President Chen Shui-bian (陈水扁).
 
His failure to deal quickly with a widening corruption scandal over the Kaohsiung subway project, which implicated a former presidential aide, was a key reason for the Democratic Progressive Party’s (民进党) dismal showing, observers here said.
 
Worse, he had tried to distance himself from it.
 
"He pushed responsibility to Premier Frank Hsieh (谢长庭)totally, which is unacceptable to his supporters," said political scientist Paul Chu, who called the DPP’s loss a disaster equivalent to an earthquake measuring 6 on the Richter scale.
 
Last night, he was conspicuous by his absence when the DPP conceded defeat.
 
Beyond the scandal, Mr Chen’s lack of achievements in his 5 1/2 years in power, his failure to prevent his family members from abusing power and his vacillation over the cross-strait issue have also caused disaffection among DPP supporters, analysts said.
 
"Mr Chen should generally take responsibility for most of the loss. He cannot blame party chairman Su Tseng-chang (苏贞昌)," said Dr Yen Chen-shen of the Institute of International Relations at the National Chengchi University. Mr Su stepped down to take responsibility for the party’s electoral defeat.
 
Whether the party could regain lost ground and emerge with a fighting chance for the 2008 presidential election would depend on Mr Chen’s actions from now, he added.
 
If he resisted challenge within the party and continued to monopolise power, then DPP would have a difficult time. But if he allowed a candidate to emerge, then it still stood a chance, Dr Yen said.
 
As for the Kuomintang (KMT 国民党),which won 14 of the 23 constituencies at stake, including the populous crucial Taipei County, it had laid a very strong foundation for the 2008 race, said Prof Chu.
 
But KMT chairman Ma Ying-jeou, who cleared his first hurdle as most likely presidential candidate "beautifully", showed he was clear-headed when he said his party did not defeat the DPP, but that the latter had defeated itself.
 
Still, said Prof Chu, Mr Ma must continue with reforms within the party if he wanted to convince voters that he was a true reformer and wrest back power that the KMT lost in 2000 because of corruption.
 
As for Mr Chen, Prof Chu expected that he would try to appeal to his supporters on the ground to avoid being a lame-duck president, by improving on his performance, particularly by liberalising his cross-strait policy.
 
However, Beijing was unlikely to give him the political room because CHinese leaders did not trust him, said Chinese security analyst Wang Xiangsui.
 
He noted also the election results showed that the ground in Taiwan had shifted on the cross-strait issue and that there was greater acceptance of the pan-Blue (泛蓝) camp’s cross-strait position.
 
Beijing’s "intervention" in Taiwan’s politics through the island’s opposition parties — by inviting these parties to visit the mainland and offering economic goodies to Taiwanese through them — was bearing fruit, he added.
 
Indeed, Dr Yen noted that the failure of DPP’s supporters to respond to Mr Chen’s warning that the party’s defeat would threaten the island’s sovereignty  showed that the mainland’s Taiwan policy was working.
 
~ by Goh Sui Noi; The Sunday Times, December 4, 2005