In his face-the-nation press conference last Sunday, President Chen Shui-bian (
In addition to offering new explanations, Chen pledged to step down if the first lady were found guilty on the corruption and forgery charges in the first trial, without waiting for the entire trial to run its course.
In Taiwan's divided society, in which half of the nation's voters do not trust him, Chen's aim was clearly to calm Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) supporters. That explains why he placed more emphasis on why he lacked a motive for embezzling NT$14.8 million (US$451,000) over the past five years as well as complaining about a "lack of due process" by the prosecutor in not giving the accused more time to defend themselves.
As for the mysterious uses of the "state affairs fund," Chen admitted that he had used the fund to pay a lobbying firm and Chinese democracy activists. However, he refused to disclose more details for the sake of national security.
It's true that an indictment does not necessarily imply guilt. We should let the judiciary decide. However, the indictment was no doubt a huge blow to Chen's already fragile leadership and the DPP's declining popularity.
The first and direct impact is on the DPP's prospects in the mayoral elections in Taipei and Kaohsiung. Despite the DPP's decision to support Chen's post-indictment elaboration, some DPP legislators have openly asked for Chen's prompt resignation or the temporary suspension of his duties as president. The DPP's Taipei mayoral candidate Frank Hsieh (
The DPP's ally the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) displayed an even more ambiguous reaction to the dramatic issue. TSU Chairman Shu Chin-chiang (
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), under Chairman Ma Ying-jeou's (馬英九) leadership, has tried to take advantage of the DPP's declining morale by mobilizing supporters on the streets to build campaign momentum.
Ma's move was heavily criticized by both the People First Party (PFP) and the "anti-President Chen" activists for applying double standards by incorporating an "anti-corruption" sentiment into the mayoral elections while granting the KMT permission to hold the parades. The KMT's attempt to launch the third recall bid against Chen is aimed at splitting the DPP while regaining the political momentum of the anti-corruption movement. Given the political rivalry between PFP Chairman James Soong (
Though it is up to the court to decide whether Chen and his family and staff have committed any crime, the alleged misuse of the fund is no doubt a disgrace to Taiwan's democracy. But if we apply the same standard to all politicians in Taiwan, there should not be any exception. For example, Ma's controversial transfer of money from his "mayoral office fund" to his private account also reflects a possible misuse or even corrupt practice.
Chen's resignation should not cause a constitutional crisis, because Vice President Annette Lu (
The public has sent a clear message to all political leaders that integrity, self-discipline and responsible policymaking are what they care about most. Conflict and hostility between the governing and the opposition parties should be brought to an end, and no politician should abuse the judicial process for the sake of their own interests.
Therefore, Chen must, as he pledged to the nation, present more persuasive evidence to the court to defend his innocence. The DPP must seize the opportunity to reinforce both structural and political reforms, and voters should see the indictment and judicial process as a turning point in introducing clean politics.
All politicians should refrain from using the case to further their own political interests and should take into account political order, social stability and the continuity of the government.
Liu Kuan-teh is a Taipei-based political commentator.
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