Wed, Nov 28, 2007 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIALS: No need for talk of martial law

On Sunday President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) told a rally in Taipei that he was considering suggestions to replace local election commission heads, request that the Central Election Commission defer January's legislative elections, declare the results of the elections invalid and even declare martial law if any of the 18 pan-blue city and county governments defy a commission directive to employ a one-stage voting procedure.

This was a grave political error.

If Chen were only a party chairman, his remarks could be dismissed as campaign rhetoric and not be taken seriously.

But as he is also the president, the effect is far more damaging.

The election dispute far from warrants a state of emergency, and there seems to be a conflict between Chen's role as president and as Democratic Progressive Party chairman in this case.

Chen's suggestion that martial law was possible should never have been aired.

Fortunately, he subsequently announced that martial law would never be declared during his term, thus defusing a political disaster.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf recently declared a state of emergency over election-related matters. This radical maneuver not only failed to solve any problems, it also led to national protests and international censure.

Pakistan's reputation was badly damaged and opposition leaders Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif seized the opportunity to garner support.

Musharraf's desperate measures did not grant him the absolute power of martial law. Instead, his actions decimated his public support and destabilized the country.

The Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) period of extended rule under martial law is infamous. For Chen to consider declaring martial law, just when the government is organizing 20th anniversary celebrations of the lifting of martial law, is anything but a wise decision.

"Martial law" is a term that carries very bad connotations.

Declaring martial law would not only damage Taiwanese democracy, but also do little to advance Chen's agenda.

It is hard to estimate what such an act would cost Taiwan, in the long and in the short term, domestically and internationally. But a declaration of martial law would almost certainly amount to digging a political grave.

In the aftermath of the shooting of Chen and Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) in March 2004 -- just before the presidential elections in that year -- and when anti-corruption protesters wanted Chen to step down last year, Chen exercised restraint, relying on legislative and democratic methods to tackle various problems. That should apply here.

In the end, using the one-stage or two-stage voting procedure in upcoming elections is an administrative and political issue and should be resolved through administrative and political means. There is no need to escalate the situation.

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