Mon, Aug 21, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Chen needs to go, but not because of protests

By Lee Chia-tung 李家同

It needs to be made clear at the outset that I am of the opinion that President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) should resign now and should have done so long ago. When former Presidential Office deputy secretary-general Chen Che-nan (陳哲男) was detained on corruption charges, it was then apparent that President Chen had to step down. He must have known what Chen Che-nan was doing, and this is unforgivable. If he says he knew nothing, he should step down because that would mean he is incompetent.

But although the president should step down, there are legitimate fears about the methods used to force him out of office will be problematic. The worst possible outcome is that he is ousted by people taking to the streets.

It is true that the public laying siege to the Presidential Office or even paralyzing traffic in the surrounding areas may result in Chen Shui-bian's resignation. But while at the present time this is the only feasible method for driving him out of office, the use of demonstrations to force his resignation should be rejected.

Let's bear in mind that Taiwan is a democracy, and that a democracy is bound by the rule of law. Laying siege to the Presidential Office or paralyzing traffic is surely illegal. Using illegal means to achieve a goal, no matter how justifiable, is something we must not do, because this would almost amount to a revolution. Isn't it contradictory for a democracy to resort to revolutionary methods?

In advanced nations, relying on mass protests to unseat a president is unheard of. The US, which also has a presidential system, set a precedent for the resignation of a sitting president, but it was not the result of mass demonstrations. US president Richard Nixon decided to step down because senator Barry Goldwater said he would initiate impeachment proceedings against Nixon if he didn't resign immediately. Knowing that his time had run out, Nixon had to bow out.

In countries with a Cabinet system, the government can be unseated through a vote of no confidence. That is the case in European countries as well as in Japan, but in none of these countries has this been achieved through mass demonstrations. In the Philippines, demonstrations are sometimes used to oust a president. Following the disintegration of the Soviet Union, large-scale demonstrations and protests occurred in many of the new republics, often resulting in a change of presidents. Incidents of this sort are sometimes welcomed by the whole nation, but almost all of these states have remained politically unstable.

If the people use street demonstrations force Chen Shui-bian to step down, future presidents may also have to step down under similar circumstances. The public of course disapproves when government officials on occasion break the law. That is why demonstrations must be lawful, and why officials must also enforce the law.

In a democracy, the purpose of staging a demonstration is to make the government aware of public opinion, but this does not mean that the government has to follow the demonstrators' opinion. Citizens in a democracy must understand this.

This thinking may be conservative, for the president will not step down of his own volition. In addition, top leaders of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) have decided to live or die with him. Thus, those who want him to quit can only express their opinion by voting. But if the DPP is hell-bent on covering up for a corrupt administration, it should be aware of the consequences.

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