Wed, Oct 04, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Corruption and democracy in action

It seems that the recent spurt of anti-corruption fervor has taken hold on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan has its Million Voices Against Corruption campaign, while China dismissed Chen Liangyu (陳良宇), party secretary of the Shanghai Municipal Committee, in its own anti-graft purge on Sept. 24. Clean government and corruption investigations are part of healthy political development, but both movements against sleaze appear to have been tainted by political wrangling.

Although Taiwan's campaign was initiated by former Democratic Progressive Party chairman Shih Ming-teh (施明德), his support comes from traditional pan-blue backers. The movement may claim to oppose all types of corruption, but its main focus is just one man -- President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁). Shih's movement is little concerned with the illegal activities of other public officials, choosing not to take time out of its nationwide tour to make a stop in Keelung, where former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Mayor Hsu Tsai-li (許財利) was recently convicted of corruption. Nor is it worried about long-term structural adjustments to the legal code. The anti-Chen headquarters is uninterested in the laws governing the president's discretionary budget, using legislative or executive power to set standards, or passing the "sunshine laws" in the legislature. They are rather more interested in political arrangements that can be made after the president has been ousted.

Although Taiwan's anti-corruption campaign is a spontaneous civil movement, its goal is confined to achieving a change of power at the highest level of government. Given that the president's involvement in illegal activities is unproven, disregarding legal procedures and forcing Chen out of office prematurely points to the sharp rise in anti-Chen sentiment being a carryover from the March 19, 2004, shooting incident.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) also appears to be fighting corruption. Accused of misappropriating the city's social security fund, Chen Liangyu was fired and his movements restricted. On the surface it seems that the Chinese government is acting firmly and quickly. However, many see the move as part of Chinese President Hu Jintao's (胡錦濤) strategy to contain the "Shanghai clique," which supports Hu's predecessor Jiang Zemin (江澤民) and aims to strengthen the latter's position at the 17th CCP National Congress next year. This way, Hu may be able to weaken Jiang's influence while further consolidating his leadership of the party.

The anti-Chen campaign has dragged on for weeks, resulting in a number of street confrontations between supporters and opponents of the president. Amid a judicial investigation into Chen Shui-bian's alleged wrongdoing, certain legislators and the media have been happy to stoke the fire by disclosing unverified information relating to the president's case and urging the public to oppose him.

In China, it is the CCP's Central Committee that has the final say on who is charged and what punishments apply. The Chinese public does not have a say in the handling of corrupt officials. Unlike Taiwan, this is an authoritarian, top-down decision-making process.

The anti-corruption effort on both sides of the Strait is the same, but the process through which it is carried out is not. Despite the large number of people participating in the campaigns for or against the president, the government and the protesters have largely exercised self-restraint and refrained from escalating the conflict. This is a far cry from the way Beijing forcefully clamps down on rights activists. In Taiwan, at least, there is a silver lining to the cloud of corruption that hangs over the government.

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