Sources within the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) say there are noises that the party do away with its regulation that members have their membership rights suspended if charged with a crime. This would pave the way for the party's presidential candidate, Frank Hsieh (
Regardless of who made the suggestion, it is a bad one. Accepting it would be tantamount to saying that Hsieh is corrupt -- a heavy political burden to carry regardless of whether he is eventually allowed to run for the presidency.
When the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) wanted to amend the black gold clause in its party charter to allow Ma Ying-jeou (
Taiwan's elections can be unique: both the DPP and KMT presidential candidates have to face prosecutors and judges before they can concern themselves with voter support. Both Ma and Hsieh pride themselves on being honest and clean politicians, but political polarization and negative campaign tactics mean that parties are trying to outdo each other in blowing up scandals. The only result has been that Ma and Hsieh have become so dragged down by lawsuits and judicial investigations that they are facing legal crises.
In dealing with the legal risks facing their candidates, the first thought to occur to the KMT and DPP has been to amend the party constitution and change the rules, regardless of the presence of guilt. But in the eyes of the public and the media, will politicians who are willing to change the rules to save their political skin make trustworthy leaders? Are there any mechanisms in place to check the behavior of such leaders? This kind of situation can transform candidates' personal legal troubles into a political crisis for everyone.
Each party's anti-corruption clause is meant to be an expression of the resolve to fight corruption. They include lofty moral standards more stringent than legal rules, which then require a final verdict before disqualification. Out of election considerations, parties then tear up their agreements with party members and the public. For their campaigns, candidates overturn their promises to voters.
Of course, the parties understand very well that their rules far exceed legal standards, and that this will necessarily bring unpleasant consequences. Perhaps they didn't consider this situation carefully beforehand, or perhaps they knew very well of the risk but were more interested in deceiving voters anyway. In either case, irresponsibly reneging on promises will expand candidates' individual legal troubles into crises of confidence for an entire party and its candidates.
Before the KMT amended its anti-corruption clause, this newspaper on April 4 criticized the KMT and Ma for acting foolishly. Now we urge the DPP not to make the same mistake by amending its constitution for one person. Not only would this fail to resolve Hsieh's legal difficulties, but it would also create a new credibility crisis for the DPP.
Hsieh and President Chen Shui-bian (
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