Mon, Apr 14, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: When Chen stoops so low

Last Wednesday we were treated to the less than edifying spectacle of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) courting the "black gold" vote. It seems that there is no depth to which Chen's lackluster government will stoop to try to get a few extra votes. It's a foolish strategy with potentially disastrous consequences.

The occasion of this electioneering was the festival of the birthday of Matsu, the Taoist goddess of the sea. The eight days either side of the festival saw the annual 322km pilgrimage of a palanquin bearing a statue of the sea goddess from the Chenlan Temple (鎮瀾宮) in Taichia, Taichung County, to Hsinkang in Chiayi County and back. Chen and Lu caught up with the pilgrimage at Fengtien Temple (奉天宮), the pilgrimage's halfway point.

The Matsu pilgrimage is one of Taiwan's highest profile religious events and there is no reason why the president shouldn't show up to court the central Taiwan Taoist vote -- if there is such a thing. The problem is that the whole Chenlan temple show is arranged by the ex-KMT, now independent, lawmaker Yen Ching-piao (顏清標). Yen is one of the worst apples in a very bad barrel; he has been convicted of attempted murder, bribery, obstruction of justice and illegal possession of firearms. He is basically a mafioso-style thug who uses the Chenlan temple as a front in much the same way that Al Capone, a character with whom Yen has much in common, used the artichoke business.

Yen has always been cultivated by the blue camp which has never seen any problem with gang bosses being politicians. And in fact only a few days before Chen's visit to the pilgrimage, PFP Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) and KMT Vice Chairman Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) turned up at the start of the pilgrimage to pay their respects to Yen. But this year marked a first for Chen who has previously steered clear of Yen and the Chenlan Temple, seeing the two as outstanding representatives of Taiwan's ultra-corrupt gangster-ridden factional local politics.

When campaigning for the 2000 election Chen attacked Soong over his connection with Yen claiming this showed that Soong was soft on corruption. And yet now we see Chen doing much the same thing. Once again we are bitterly disappointed. Once again we have to ask how many more of the DPP's supposedly core principles Chen is going to trash.

We expect better. The fact is that we hold the DPP to a higher standard of behavior than the blue camp. We all know that the KMT is monstrously corrupt; in fact it is probably more accurate to describe it as a criminal racket than a political party. We also know that Soong belongs in jail. But the DPP has always tried to portray itself as the party of honest government. Sometimes this has only been honored in the breach. After all, after 50 years of KMT corruption, Taiwan's politics is not going to suddenly achieve the squeaky cleanness of Sweden. But by and large if Taiwan's politics is ever to be cleaned up it will have to be done by the DPP. Which is why Chen's willingness to associate with trash like Yen is so bitterly disappointing.

It may be immoral but, even worse in the lexicon of political expediency, it may also be a mistake. For Chen is slowly whittling away almost everything distinctive about the DPP. But then voters have to ask what the DPP actually stands for anymore. What we have seen over the past three years is a KMT government run by the DPP. We have seen no radical change and are losing sight even of the concept. The DPP used to want to make a difference. Now it simply wants to beat the KMT -- at any price. But that is no reason to vote for it.

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