Sun, Jan 16, 2000 - Page 8 News List

Taiwanese will get what they deserve

By Antonio Chiang

In a normal democratic country, a candidate entangled in a serious financial scandal like James Soong's (宋楚瑜) would be forced to drop out of the presidential race. But the incident has not forced Soong out; instead, he is gradually regaining popularity. Perhaps we can simply say that Taiwan is not a normal country.

The scandal involves a huge sum of money, and the stories are so complicated that the truth still remains mysterious after all the explanations offered at press conferences and the tense arguments between Soong's camp and the KMT.

There has been intense coverage in the media on this case. But the style of the reports is such that the journalists might just as well be reporting a horse race. By not seeking out the the truth, the media have failed to reveal the core issues. Of these, the most serious is that during the time when Soong served as governor of Taiwan, he offered campaign funds to many provincial assembly deputies.

The provincial assembly is the institution that monitors the provincial government. How can a governor offer financial aid to provincial assemblymen during elections? Such financial involvement would distort the relationship between the two sides. Obviously Soong was not the first official to do this, but what particularly surprised me was that, even after he confessed to these deeds, no serious criticism has been raised. What's even more shocking was that he showed absolutely no sign of remorse while he was explaining the whole issue. The reason for public indifference, I assume, is that bribery has traditionally been part of the KMT culture which is more or less accepted.

No wonder the relationship between former governor Soong and the provincial assembly deputies was so harmonious. The solid friendship has continued to this day, now that several of the assemblymen have become legislators.

When one has become sufficiently practiced at these tricks, one can move on to buying support from legislators as Premier, or bribe National Assembly deputies to votes for certain presidential candidates. These are the best examples of financial involvement in politics.

Another unusual phenomenon is that people are more curious about the identity of the "elder" -- a shadowy figure in Soong's testimony -- than why the elder was willing to give such a huge amount of money to Soong's son. Can you imagine what the inside story was behind the exchange of favors between politicians and businessmen? In fact, the whole thing could be a huge scandal, but not many people appeared to be interested in it. Maybe Taiwanese are so used to corruption that they have become numb.

This scandal, at the same time, can be viewed as a bloody political struggle. Judicial independence and administrative neutrality, which are hard to establish, were the first victims. New Party legislator Hsieh Chi-ta (謝啟大), who is known for her impartiality, tarnished her image when she showed obvious political bias as soon as she got involved. The financial, judicial and political systems have been tainted and the public has become still more cynical about Taiwan's political scene.

As a consequence, those who believed in Soong still believe in him; and those who didn't trust in him before still don't. Those that remain are uncertain about what to believe. They think people are all the same -- all politicians lie and all take bribes. For them, the key issues lie in the amount of the money involved and whether the scandals are disclosed or not.

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