One benefit to be gained from the recent allegations against President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) is a growing public awareness on how to judge a political leader's character.
A comprehensive judgment of a political leader must take into account whether he or she can uphold national interests, set achievable goals and remain determined and consistent in executing ideas. He or she must have strong discipline, high moral standards and behave consistently.
If Chen failed to live up to high moral standards of leadership, at least he has set an example for other politicians by avoiding double standards and judging himself as well as others.
What Taiwan needs now is a stronger, unbiased, independent watchdog mechanism to monitor all politicians, especially those who might take power in 2008.
Among them, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou's (
Also, when former Taitung County commissioner Wu Chun-li (吳俊立) was charged with bribery and his wife represented him in the election, Ma emphasized that Wu's wife "should not suffer for the crimes of her husband." But when first lady Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍) was accused of receiving vouchers from the SOGO Department Store and her son-in-law was charged with insider trading, Ma insisted Chen take the blame.
When Chen's recall was first suggested by hawkish pan-blue figures, Ma remained cautious about such a move. As People First Party Chairman James Soong (
However, amid criticism that Ma has been controlled by Soong and the anti-Chen movement, he decided not to dance to Soong's tune and initiate a vote of no-confidence in the Cabinet right after Tuesday's recall vote.
Ma's political fence-sitting reminds us that he tried to manipulate the unification-independence issue earlier this year. After Chen announced he would consider abolishing the National Unification Council and guidelines in January, Ma adjusted his political stance by switching from unification as the eventual goal for Taiwan to embracing the idea of independence as an option.
With the aim of building a moderate image of himself, Ma used recent overseas trips to outline his cross-strait policy. However, most of his ideas either rehash other theories or existing policies adopted by the DPP government.
If Ma has problems with inconsistency and indecisiveness on key issues, what makes him different from Chen or Soong? Over-complacency and political opportunism have illustrated Ma's leadership weaknesses.
After the KMT's landslide victory in last December's three-in-one local elections, the morale of the pan-green camp was low and they were divided. Ma's over-complacent use of the national identity issue, however, resulted in a backlash from both the DPP and his own pan-blue alliance.
When Ma's camp tried to take advantage of his overrated popularity to score political points, he overlooked the deeply-rooted idea that the people of Taiwan have the right to a say in their own future.
When Ma attempted to assimilate light-green supporters by making independence one of the alternatives for Taiwan's future with China, he received a slap in the face from hard-core unification proponents.
A mirror has two faces. When Ma accuses Chen of not telling the truth and urges him to step down, he needs to remind himself that he is walking down the same path that Chen has trod.
Liu Kuan-teh is a Taipei-based political commentator.
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