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"Ah-bian"... November 06, 2006 1:21 AM

Profile: Taiwan's Elected 2nd-Termed President - Chen Shui-Bian.

Chen Shui-bian, a native-born Taiwanese and the island's first president from the then opposition DPP

party, was re-elected in March 2004 by the narrowest of margins.

But his hopes of building a lasting political legacy during his second term have been undermined by waning popularity and a series of corruption scandals, culminating - in November 2006 - with the charging of his wife.

A charismatic public speaker from a poor rural background, Mr Chen is seen as a steely fighter with a populist touch. He insists he is a "peacemaker, not a troublemaker", and says he has no plans to declare independence except in the event of a Chinese invasion.

But his often prickly approach towards Beijing, and his Democratic Progressive Party's traditional pro-independence stance, have caused some to worry about Taiwan's longer-term stability and prosperity.

China remains deeply suspicious of him, accusing him of planning constitutional changes that would destroy the future path of eventual reunification.

Chen Shui-bian's life is a tale of tenacity in the face of adversity.

He was born to illiterate tenant farmers in a village in southern Taiwan in 1951. Education became his ticket out of poverty. He was the best student in his county and earned himself a place at the prestigious Taiwan National University (NTU) where he gained a law degree.

As an ambitious young lawyer, he joined a maritime legal firm and married Wu Shu-chen, the daughter of a wealthy doctor.

Mr Chen fell into politics in the early 1980s when he defended a group of incarcerated pro-independence leaders following a protest in the southern port of Kaohsiung. He lost the case, but he was won over by his clients' ideals. The defendants and their lawyers subsequently became the core of the democratic oppositions.

Tragedy struck in 1985, when his wife was paralysed from the waist down after a truck ran over her in what many believe was a covert assassination attempt on Mr Chen himself.

The following year, Mr Chen was jailed for eight months after losing a libel case involving the then ruling party - the Kuomintang (KMT).

But if his enemies aimed to keep him out of politics, they achieved the very opposite. He became a member of the Taipei municipal council, and after the birth of multi-party politics and the formation of the DPP political party became the capital city's first popularly elected Mayor in 1994.

Mr Chen fought corruptions, shut down brothels, improved traffic and levelled a large slum to create a park. But his abrasiveness and sometimes autocratic style also made enemies.

When Taipei's voters threw him out four years later, he turned his defeat into an opportunity to run for the presidency in 2000.

His personal success in that campaign was followed by his party's victory in parliamentary elections the following year - the first democratic transfer of power from one party to another in the Chinese world.

Much of Mr Chen's appeal to voters lies in his personal dynamism and his down-to-earth background. Many refer to him by his nickname "A-bian."

Theatrical Showman:
"At his public rallies," says one observer, "he is quite brilliant at working the crowd. He gets them laughing and uses elaborately choreographed music, fireworks and balloons to build up the atmosphere. He's a real showman."

He is also seen as something of a maverick. In 2004, in the first-ever televised presidential debate in Taiwan's history, the then-challenger Lien Chan focused on the president's character, calling him "capricious," "irresponsible" and "unreliable."

Mr Chen indignantly dismissed his allegations. "My hairstyle has never changed over the years," he said, "nor my love for my wife."

But in 2006, following strings of allegations against his family and advisers, he was seriously weakened.

Public prosecutors arrested his son-in-law on an insider trading charges and then, this early November, charged his wife of corruption and forgeries.

Prosecutors said the president himself would also have faced charges if it were not for the constitutionalized presidential immunity, thereby leading to incessant calls for him to resign or be impeachment.

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