Taiwan’s ruling party on Friday formally selected President Chen Shui-bian as its new chairman


TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan’s ruling party on Friday formally selected President Chen Shui-bian as its new chairman, but it was uncertain if Chen would take up the post.

The vote by the Central Executive Committee of the Democratic Progressive Party followed a decision earlier this week by a subordinate party group to give the nod to Chen, who completes his presidential term in May 2008.

Chen said Thursday he was considering assuming the chairman’s role, but had made no final decision about it.

Contacted after the Central Executive Committee decision, Chen spokesman David Lee said the presidential office would not comment on it.

Vice President Annette Lu urged Chen to accept the chairmanship.

“For the party’s good, the president has no other choice than accepting the offer, as he is the only one who can unify (us).”

DPP spokesman Meng I-chao said Chen was still trying to persuade outgoing chairman Yu Shyi-kun to remain in the post. Yu resigned last week following his indictment on graft charges.

As DPP chairman, Chen would be in a strong position to influence the party’s strategy in March 2008 presidential elections, particularly on the question of relations with China, which is expected to be the dominant issue.

The presidential contest pits DPP candidate Frank Hsieh against Ma Ying-jeou of the main opposition Nationalists.

Chen strongly favors independence for Taiwan. The democratic island split from the communist mainland amid civil war in 1949.

Beijing, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory, has threatened to attack if Chen’s pro-independence line becomes reality.

Many Hsieh loyalists fear Chen’s hard-line views could hurt the candidate among Taiwan’s broad swathe of moderate voters, who fear the consequences of pro-independence moves on Taiwanese security.

Hsieh has said he would fully support Chen as party chairman, though his own choice for the role was believed to have been presidential office Secretary General Yeh Chu-lan, a former acting mayor of the southern city of Kaohsiung.