In recent years, the release of "information" by our legislators, officials or even the president has become a trend. These people seldom have clear and definite evidence to back up their revelations, but despite this, we rarely see their parties intervene, and their behavior is excused as being "personal" in nature.
In Japan, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi recently went through the final general budget review of his term of office. The opposition Democratic Party was ready for a big fight. But the exposure of a groundless e-mail accusation against the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) ruined the Democratic Party's image and caused chaos, while the budget was given easy passage by the legislature. The developments in Japan could serve as a lesson for Taiwan, where "exposes" are rampant.
The incident began when Democratic Party lawmaker Hisayasu Nagata on Feb. 16 produced a copy of an e-mail accusing a son of LDP Secretary-General Tsutomu of taking ?30 million (US$255,610) in consultancy fees from Takafumi Horie, the former chief executive officer of Livedoor Co, thus implying a close relationship between the LDP and Horie.
The allegation caused a sensation, but when the lawmaker failed to produce unambiguous evidence, he had to offer a public apology. His party's failure to discipline him damaged its image.
Democratic Party Chairman Seiji Maehara and Diet affairs committee chairman Yoshihiko Noda -- who were aware of the situation beforehand -- were also attacked for their failure to supervise and seek the understanding of other party members. As a result, Noda quit his post to shoulder responsibility. Maehara's reputation was badly damaged and he is unlikely to be re-elected. Nagata will be disciplined by the legislature and may even lose his seat.
The e-mail incident highlights the problem of holding politicians accountable. "No proof, no accusation" should be an unalterable principle for all politicians.
Although corruption does exist in Japanese politics, honesty and responsibility are the moral bottom line that politicians must not cross. For example, former foreign minister Makiko Tanaka, once a political superstar, was forced to quit for diverting her assistant's salary for office use. Although she has staged a comeback, her influence is much less significant than before.
If the same thing happened in Taiwan -- where legislators often hire their relatives as legislative assistants to save themselves money -- no punishment would be given. Due to their legislative immunity, lawmakers never think about political accountability when they release "information" without firm evidence.
Nothing can touch them, even if they act as shameless rascals. After all, the president has already taken the lead. What else then, could we expect from our elected representatives?
Albert Yin is an editor at the Japan Research Institute in Taiwan.
Translated by Eddy Chang