The bizarre thing about this election campaign is that the most vehement attacks against President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) are coming not from Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) or People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) but from fugitive tycoon Chen Yu-hao (陳由豪). By any standard, this is an election novelty: a disgraced businessman on the lam fighting an asymmetrical war against a president.
The former Tuntex boss' accusations against the president do not hold water. He said he donated money to Chen Shui-bian's campaign for Taipei mayor, which the president readily admits. Receipts were also issued to the fugitive as required by law. Chen Yu-hao also donated large sums to the KMT and to Soong.
There is no way to regulate such donations while the Political Donations Law (政治獻金法) is stuck in the legislature, so they do not constitute illegal acts. But if they were problematic, the KMT and Soong would have far bigger problems explaining themselves, having received far larger amounts from Chen Yu-hao. Yet the media have turned a blind eye to the donations made to the KMT and Soong, while dogging first lady Wu Shu-chen (吳淑珍) on trivia such as whether Chen Yu-hao visited the presidential residence. This has turned an issue of propriety into a question of correct memories. Predictably, the dispute is now seriously out of focus.
Political donations are different from bribery in that one makes donations to parties and individuals that one favors to help them enact policies. Bribery also involves a cash transfer, but in this case the donor hopes to extract an illegal favor or benefit in return.
In the case of Chen Yu-hao, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government did not bail out his troubled company, as a previous KMT administration would have been expected to do. Instead, the DPP government put him on the most-wanted list for embezzlement and illegal investment in China. Put simply, there is no give-and-take relationship between Chen Yu-hao and this government.
But the claims made by Chen Yu-hao -- via fax, from overseas -- have caused some damage. The TAIEX yesterday slumped an irrational 164 points, prompting a number of Taiwanese and foreign journalists who have a superficial understanding of the issue to ask, "Is the Chen Shui-bian government corrupt?"
We would not dare offer a guarantee that no one in this government is involved in bribe-taking, but unlike former KMT governments, with their intricate and formidable networks of collusion with gangsters and business conglomerates, "black gold" does not pose a structural problem for the DPP. There are only isolated cases, and minor at that.
Moreover, much of the civil service is still pro-KMT. This creates an enormous monitoring force against the DPP. With 50 years of experience in government and corruption, the pan-blue camp's sympathetic elements in the public service would have easily exposed any corrupt behavior on the part of DPP officials by now.
Chen Yu-hao's accusations, safely hurled from overseas, may mesmerize some people for a while, but voters should be able to identify the purveyors of genuine "black gold" when they have their say on Saturday.