Tue, Aug 22, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: The rule of law must come first

Taiwan's opposition parties and interest groups are continuing to call on President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to step down. There is no evidence to support the view that the president has violated the law. We should respect freedom of expression and the right of everyone to air an opinion. But the actions and confrontational rhetoric of those seeking Chen's resignation and those who want to protect him are approaching rock-bottom. If these groups don't exercise restraint, the nation may face a period of pronounced difficulty in which democracy and the rule of law are sacrificed.

The pan-blue camp, for example, has spread rumors that the president's son-in-law, Chao Chien-ming (趙建銘), sold jewelry to fund his potential escape from justice. These have been retracted.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Wang Shih-cheng (王世堅) said: "I wish that [former DPP chairman Shih Ming-teh (施明德)] had been executed during Chiang Ching-kuo's (蔣經國) presidency."

DPP Legislator Wang Hsing-nan (王幸男) has asked Shih to return the donations he received when running for a legislative seat for a constituency in Tainan.

The headquarters for Shih's campaign to oust the president, on the other hand, has released information about death threats against Shih and asked for police protection. There have also been clashes between Chen's supporters and opponents in his home town in Tainan County.

The attacks have now extended to the personal morals of Chen, Shih and people close to them, as well as unification and independence supporters alike. This is creating an atmosphere of insecurity that will do no one any good.

Shih's cause to unseat the president through instigating a popular uprising is wrong-headed. Taiwan is a democracy that has clear legal requirements and procedures regulating the removal of a president.

The pan-blue camp's legislative recall motion failed and Chen retains the legal right to govern. Organizing street protests is not a good tactic, because if the president is forced to step down as a result, it will set a bad precedent for this nation's democracy.

The office of the president would become so easily swayed by political conflict that future presidents would eventually come under the same pressure. That would set Taiwan off on the same vicious political cycle seen in the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand and Indonesia.

Nonetheless, Shih and others opposed to Chen have a legal right to air their opinions as well as a limited degree of freedom to assemble. As long as they do not violate the law, these rights must be respected and protected.

The president's supporters may disapprove of Shih's proposition, but they should not physically attack him or threaten him. By the same token, the anti-Chen forces may protest, but the protests must not turn into riots resembling the debacle that followed the 2004 presidential election. Nor must those opposing Chen cook up unfounded charges or threaten him or his family's security.

Both sides grappling with this issue have strong arguments and public support, and neither side can easily defeat the other. The goal of adhering to democratic values and the rule of law should be placed above and beyond the issue of protecting or unseating the president.

If the nation can resolve this conflict in a civilized and rational manner, it will remain a democracy worthy of emulation. The alternative is a throwback to the days when political violence was par for the course.

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