Thu, Nov 09, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Charges show nation's best, worst

By Cao Changqing 曹長青

Last Friday, prosecutors indicted first lady Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍) and three others on corruption and forgery charges in connection to the handling of a Presidential Office special "state affairs fund."

There is no question that the indictment not only shocked Taiwan, but also took the overseas Chinese community by surprise. What does the indictment mean? And how should we view the indictment? I think that the issue can be looked at from at least five perspectives.

First, the fact that the prosecutor could indict the first lady is a success for Taiwan's judicial system and democracy. The prosecutor clearly stated that the investigation was conducted without any outside pressure. This pressure, of course, could only have come from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

The prosecutor said that President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) administration had not intervened or interfered in the investigation at any stage of the process, which is laudable for a new democracy.

No matter how incomplete Taiwan's judicial system may be, the fact that the prosecutor could fulfill his duty without political pressure and launch a judicial investigation into a case involving the first lady and top presidential aides has highlighted the fact that Taiwan has developed into a society where everyone is equal before the law.

This is something that the people of Taiwan, who have lived under the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) "do-as-they-please" regime, should be pleased at and proud of.

Second, this respect for the independence and fairness of the judicial system has set a good precedent for the principle that everyone is equal before the law. The next step for Taiwan will now be to abide by the principle of presumed innocence -- the most important legal concept.

In other words, merely being accused is not the same as being found guilty. Therefore, so long as Wu and the accused presidential aides have not been deemed guilty by a court of law, they should be regarded as innocent.

Given that Taiwan was ruled by a dictatorial despotic government for more than half a century, there is a general lack of a understanding of the presumption of innocence. This is why we saw two presidential recall motions in the legislature and a third one already underway before the judicial system commenced legal proceedings, as well as social unrest and street demonstrations.

An indictment is a judicial issue, whereas a recall motion is a political issue. The decision by the KMT and the People First Party (PFP) to propose a third recall motion before the conclusion of the "state affairs fund" case on the very day that the prosecutor announced his decision reveals that they are driven purely by political motives. This can only serve to rapidly aggravate partisan wrangling between the pan-green and pan-blue camps.

Third, in a democratic nation, the judicial system may be neutral, but prosecutors are not. They are inevitably influenced by their political affiliations, and not even an advanced democracy like the US is an exception to this.

Although the prosecutor charging Wu and the others has always called himself "deep green" -- I am becoming more and more confused about what that really means -- his indictment is clearly unfair and inappropriate in places. Certain phrases even get dangerously close to declaring the president's guilt.

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