Mon, Nov 13, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Democracy is the biggest casualty

By Yen Chueh-an 顏厥安

A reading of the lengthy indictment of first lady Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍) unfortunately reveals a series of unsubstantiated charges of constitutional violations.

Many of the so-called "facts" of the case were brought forward by those whose goal is to force President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to "behave properly" or even resign in order to set a constitutional precedent and protect Taiwan's democracy.

Regardless of what the future brings, Chen's bright image as the "son of Taiwan" has already been irreparably tarnished.

On the other end of the spectrum, some maintain the hidden goal of preventing Chen and Wu from being indicted or serving prison sentences.

Regrettably, the reality is that on both sides of the debate, the discourse has been hijacked by the logic of politics, and so consideration of right and wrong has been supplanted by concern for partisan gains.

As I write this article, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is continuing its closed-door meetings and many unexpected variables remain that could influence the current political situation.

The overall picture, however, has become clear: Chen looks likely to struggle to retain the presidency despite a third recall motion and the looming possibility of impeachment, recall hearings, street protests and court hearings, which together will provide a severe test for Taiwan's democracy.

But no matter how the situation develops, the following points deserve more consideration and action.

First, though there is no strict legal definition for the "constitutional crimes" that Chen has been accused of, the term is still a concept very pertinent to the situation. The presidency and Taiwan's four other Yuans are all constitutional institutions.

Constitutional bodies cannot commit crimes in themselves, but the people entrusted with exercising their power are capable of all kinds of offenses.

While those in power remain in their posts, there are systems in place to make sure that the government's separation of power doesn't become unbalanced.

This is why the Constitution places direct controls -- such as restrictions on indictments, immunity and impeachment -- on actions that one branch of the government take take against another.

The result of such controls is to allow those wielding power to have the necessary leeway to leave at an appropriate time.

This leeway has been built into the system not to enable the accused to "save face," but instead to maintain the dignity of the constitutional system.

Thus, if those in control of constitutional organizations abuse their power or behave inappropriately, a method has been established that allows them to find an appropriate exit strategy under the constitutional system.

Second, in the past decade, there have been at least two instances where the law stepped in to resolve major political crises. The first was Constitutional Interpretation 261 -- made by the Council of Grand Justices in 1990 -- which ruled that Taiwanese legislators elected in China had to seek re-election to keep their positions.

The second legal intervention came two years ago during the controversy over the 2004 presidential election when the courts averted a major conflict by certifying the results, thereby giving the pan-blue camp a result it had to accept, at least superficially.

It's still unclear whether or not the indictment of the first lady and possible indictment of the president will lead to a third legal intervention, but there should be some concern about the impact of such judicial intervention on Taiwan's democratic development.

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