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Thursday, November 9, 2000

Taiwan’s president
could face recall vote

Bullet The issue: President Chen Shui-bian may be removed from office if a drive to hold a recall vote succeeds.
Bullet Our view: Chen and his opponents should try to find a way to avoid a showdown.

WHILE President Joseph Estrada faces an impeachment attempt in the Philippine Congress, to the north on Taiwan his counterpart also must deal with an opposition effort to drive him from office.

President Chen Shui-bian took office in May after becoming the first elected leader to wrest the presidency from the Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang, since the founding of the Republic of China.

But Chen's mandate was doubtful. He received just 39 percent of the vote, which was enough to win only because the Nationalist vote was split between two candidates. His Democratic Progressive Party holds fewer than one-third of the seats in the legislature, with the Nationalists holding a majority.

That legislative vulnerability is the key to the problem. A coalition of opposition parties is threatening to pass a recall motion against Chen. It has just approved procedures for such a motion.

The measure will take effect within two weeks. Then, if two-thirds of the parliament supported a recall, a public referendum on the fate of Chen could be held within 60 days.

In the Philippines, the main issue against Estrada is the charge that he took millions of dollars in bribes from an illegal gambling operation. On Taiwan, the main issues are a slumping economy and Chen's decision to stop construction of a nuclear power plant outside Taipei that had been approved by the previous administration.

Basically the Nationalists aren't reconciled to losing control of the government for the first time since it sought refuge on Taiwan half a century ago.

With their control of the legislature, the Nationalists have the power to make Chen's life difficult . They are demanding that Chen surrender control of foreign policy, including negotiations with China, to save his presidency. Chen's party advocated independence for Taiwan, but he has backed away from that position since his election.

Chen has tried to be conciliatory, issuing an apology to the Nationalist leader, Lian Chan, for humiliating him when the decision to cancel the nuclear plant was announced less than one hour after the two met to discuss compromises.

A recall effort would carry risks for the Nationalists as well as for Chen, who might succeed in mustering popular support and survive the recall. That would only strengthen his position.

One way to avoid a showdown might be to send the nuclear power plant issue to the supreme court for a decision on which branch of government has the authority to kill the project.

It will take concessions from both sides to avert a constitutional crisis that could threaten Taiwan's fledgling democracy. Friends of Taiwan hope the rival factions will find a way.

Russian spy case

Bullet The issue: The principal witness against an American being tried on charges of breaching Russian security has recanted his allegations.
Bullet Our view: The recantation should be entered into evidence, preferably in open court.

RUSSIA'S justice system is being put to the test in the trial of an American businessman accused of trying to buy classified plans for a high-speed Russian torpedo. Unfortunately, the system is difficult to assess when trials are conducted behind closed doors. Reports of undue pressure exerted on a key witness have added to the impression of a kangaroo court.

Edmond Pope, a 54-year-old former U.S. Navy intelligence officer, was arrested in April on charges that he tried to obtain Russian state secrets, including some from scientist Anatoly Babkin, a professor at Moscow's Technical University. Babkin is considered the linchpin in the case.

A video distributed by Russia's Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB, shows Pope and Babkin sitting together in a hotel room just before the arrest of both men.

Babkin has not testified in court but implicated Pope in a deposition being used in the trial. Pope's attorney now has produced a letter from Babkin recanting the allegations made in the deposition.

In the letter, Babkin says he made the allegations "under pressure, having a grave heart condition preceding heart attack." The letter says further, "I signed the protocol of my interrogation without even reading it. I have never met Edmond Pope face-to-face and have not given him any sensitive information. Edmond Pope himself has never asked me to give any kind of sensitive data."

Judge Nina Barkina refused to admit Babkin's letter into evidence in the trial or to hold a court session in Babkin's home, where he is recovering from the heart attack. Citing Russian trial law, the judge said Babkin needs to present his testimony in court.

Pope maintains his innocence, saying he was trying to purchase documents on underwater propulsion technology that had already been sold abroad. President Clinton has appealed to President Vladimir Putin to release Pope, but Putin said the matter is in the hands of the court.

If the judge's ruling indeed reflects Russia's trial law, greater flexibility is needed to conform with Western standards of justice. The Federal Security System says it does not need Babkin's testimony. If that is the case, it should not object to entering his recantation into evidence.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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