No amount of smarmy rationalization and rabble-rousing alters the fact that the death penalty is a vicious affront to a civilized society. But capital punishment is not the preserve of autocratic governments. Perfectly democratic processes in countries around the world have instituted capital punishment and many of these states show no signs of removing it from their books. So opponents of the death penalty should not be too hard on Taiwan in this respect.
Yet the executions of two brothers in Kaohsiung this week, together with the complicity of most of the media in refusing to report on the matter in meaningful detail, suggest that there remains an obliviousness to the killing of prisoners in a society in which courts are laughably inconsistent and the law is sneered at by the opposition party that wrote most of it in the first place.
Most of all, however, the deaths of Lin Meng-kai (
In 1996, when Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (
Good gracious, many marveled at the time, behold this politician's conscience! Despite his adherence to a suicidal "Greater China" ideology and the dubious ethics of his associates, Ma attracts traditional DPP voters on the basis of his sincere image and ability to occasionally stand up and be counted at the most surprising of times. And that was one of those times.
Ten years later, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is in power, but the power of the conscience has apparently evaporated and death remains an attractive option for the nation's prosecutors. Imagine the surreal scene when Chen met international human-rights activists in the Presidential Office in September. He had to account for the retention of a weapon of state whose traditional victims were political, and in countless instances innocent of the crimes with which they were charged. One can imagine Chen barely keeping a straight face as he told International Federation for Human Rights delegates that he was working to end the death penalty. Which begs the question: What work, exactly?
Perhaps Chen was too busy licking his wounds from the DPP's loss of long-held county electorates earlier this month to notice this week's killings. Perhaps being president is such an onerous task that one forgets the years spent as a lawyer working on behalf of democracy activists threatened with death -- including Vice President Annette Lu (
If a president with Chen's background lacks the conscience to intervene on a matter such as this, and lacks the courage and ambition to face the public and explain why he has intervened, yet has all of the constitutional power and time he needs to do both of these things, then what is he doing in the Presidential Office?