Opposition in Taiwan moves to topple Chen

By Mure Dickie

TAIPEI, Taiwan,Oct. 31, 2000 (Financial Times)à‚–Taiwan’s opposition parties yesterday took the first step in a threatened effort to topple Chen Shui-bian, the president, in a move that underlines the danger of extended political gridlock following the controversial scrapping of a T$170bn (US$5.3bn) nuclear power plant.

Waving aside conciliatory signals from Mr Chen and his premier, more than 120 legislators signed a motion to recall the president far more than the number required for a parliamentary vote. Under Taiwan’s constitution, voters have the right to remove elected representatives from power.

Nationalist politicians said they were determined to force a preliminary vote by legislators, which would require a two-thirds majority to pass. The effort to remove the president would then have to be approved by a majority in an election in which 50 per cent of the national electorate took part.

Success would be far from assured and some analysts said the move could well be abandoned since it poses significant risks for the Nationalist party, which has a legislative majority but is in poor political shape since its defeat by Mr Chen in March’s presidential poll.

But unprecedented unity among the three opposition parties and their determination to embarrass Mr Chen suggests there is little chance of an early end to the crisis, which has partly paralysed the government and sent share prices and the Taiwan dollar tumbling.

The political noise and fury which yesterday included a balloon-popping demonstration by opposition politicians aimed at driving the premier from the legislature threatens to unnerve investors. John Pinkel, of Salomon Smith Barney, said: “It seems like this could drag on for months. . . meanwhile no decisions of import get made.”

Mr Chen and his premier have attempted to ease Nationalist hostility with an oblique apology for announcing the decision to cancel the nuclear plant shortly after a meeting between the president and Lien Chan, Nationalist chairman.

Nationalists have called the timing a calculated slight and have challenged the cabinet’s power to scrap a project already approved by the legislature a point on which Taiwan’s constitution is unclear.

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