Last Saturday, a group of pan-green academics released a statement entitled "Democracy and the Moral Crisis of Taiwanese Identity -- Our Appeal to the President, the Ruling Party and Taiwanese Citizens."
The statement, drafted by Academia Sinica researcher Wu Nai-teh (吳乃德) and supported by other academics associated with the 1990 student movement, urged President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to "set a good example for Taiwan's democratic politics by seriously considering stepping down" to take full responsibility for the scandals related to his close aides and family members.
The statement, launched by former staunch supporters of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), cast another shadow over Chen's already fragile leadership, especially in the wake of the pan-blue camp's attempt to recall him late last month.
The disappointment and frustration of these old friends of the DPP with regard to Chen's failure to maintain a higher level of morality and discipline in his family and staff is understand-able. However, the solution they suggest would not necessarily translate into the long-term institutional reform needed to untie the current political knot.
What really matters is the extent to which Taiwan's imperfect institutions can provide a safety net to maintain political stability when a national leader suffers a loss of public trust.
While the academics urged Chen to take "moral responsibility" by stepping down, it is "political responsibility" that is more important for Chen. If evidence shows that Chen is involved in anything illegal, he should bear both "political and moral responsibility" and relinquish power.
Theoretically, if Chen were to step down, there would be no constitutional crisis, because Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) would step into the presidency. Nevertheless, the political crisis that would be accompanied by Chen's resignation constitutes a greater concern.
The fact is, Chen's immediate resignation would not solve anything. Instead, it would trigger an even more severe political crisis. The pan-blue alliance would continue to sabotage Lu and the DPP government, and utilize the power shift for its own benefit. Can society really afford non-stop political chaos until 2008?
Moreover, the public has sent a clear message to all political leaders that political and economic stability are their highest concerns. Conflicts and hostility between the governing and opposition parties should be halted and no politician should attempt to take advantage of the judicial process to serve their own ends.
For Chen and the DPP, they should buck up, suck it in and come fighting. They must seize the opportunity to reinforce both structural and political reforms. And the public must see the indictment of former Presidential Office deputy secretary-general Chen Che-nan (陳哲男), and Chen's son-in-law Chao Chien-ming (趙建銘) as a turning point for cleaning up the nation's political system.
The academic community should now propose a "contract for clean politics" to Chen and the government, as well as to the opposition parties. The "contract" should entail a joint effort to pass so-called sunshine bills and the political contribution law, as well as establish an independent commission against corruption.
What the nation's democracy needs now encompasses three important qualities -- perseverance, robustness and tenacity. As a country struggling to deepen democracy, Taiwan yearns for more discipline, institutionalization and order.