Chen bars Yu, Lu from 2008 presidential race

By Joe Hung The China Post

The ruling Democratic Progressive Party decided on how to choose its candidates for president and vice president in 2008 yesterday, thinning the field to only two hopefuls who may not agree who is going to head the ticket. In a special meeting, the party’s central executive council adopted President Chen Shui-bian’s plan to limit to 70 percent the power of respondents as in-house poll “electors” of the two candidates. The adoption of the Chen plan means both Vice President Annette Lu and DPP chairman Yu Shyi-kun are out of the 2008 race. They are no match for Premier Su Tseng-chang and his predecessor Frank Hsieh in popularity. Su and Hsieh have enjoyed a huge lead over Lu and Yu in poll after poll.

That’s why Yu and Lu resisted the Chen plan, which envisages the most favored candidate to run for president, with the runner-up as his running mate. With the adoption of the plan, Lu and Yu had to acquiesce in the name of party solidarity. In the end, President Chen succeeded in mediating the dispute among the four contenders, which may result in a long-lasting feud if not resolved in time. As a matter of fact, Chen would have preferred to choose Yu, who has been considered his proxy and helped him tide over his worst political crisis last year. Chen and Yu faced down Shih Ming-teh and his Redshirts who demanded that Chen step down as president. The president also survived three recall attempts. President Chen has never liked Annette Lu, though he made her his running mate twice. Moreover, neither Lu nor Yu is deemed capable of winning the 2008 election. Yu was dumped in the interest of the party, which wishes to hold on to power after Chen retires as president in May 2008. Straw polls, with the votes of 50 percent of middle-of-the-road respondents counted, will be conducted between May 7 and 28. No decision has been taken as to how many polls will be called. There will be no party primary, which was expected to be divisive. It was originally scheduled for May 6. The central executive council will announce the nomination on May 30. With the first hurdle crossed, President Chen will have to mediate again between Su and Hsieh right after the polls. Neither currently accepts the number two spot. Su has a slight edge over Hsieh in the straw polls as designed by the president. But Hsieh could out poll Su, if more pan-blue respondents were excluded. Each man dislikes the other. That will make Chen’s next mediation all the more difficult.

It’s up to President Chen to arrange a workable trade-off so that both could be fielded to take on Ma Ying-jeou, former chairman of the Kuomintang, and his running mate. Though Chen believes the ruling party may win, an increasingly popular Ma Ying-jeou may be all but invincible. The only drawback is that Ma is standing trial for corruption in connection with the misuse of his expense account while he was mayor of Taipei. He was indicted on February 13. The trial starts next Wednesday. But polls taken after the indictment showed Ma’s voter support rise rather than drop. Voters by and large believe he is falsely incriminated. His popularity might drop if he were convicted. The Taipei district court will hand down its verdict by the end of September at the latest. Chen has to bet on Ma’s conviction to continue entertaining hopes for a DPP win, come next March.