If former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) thought that he would be able to live the quiet life following the end of his second term on Tuesday then the evidence of the last few days would suggest he was sorely mistaken.
Chen’s hope, as he told reporters on Wednesday, that he would live an “ordinary, tranquil and peaceful life” was extremely short-lived. The former president and his legacy have already been buffeted from pillar to post in the short time since he stepped down.
First, just minutes after he had handed over the reins of power to his successor, the Supreme Prosecutors Office declared Chen a defendant in its investigation into the handling of the Presidential Office’s “state affairs fund.”
Chen and all concerned must have known that this moment would come after he lost presidential immunity. Prosecutors indicted his wife on similar charges in November 2006, but it was apparently too much for the prosecutors to allow Chen to leave the Presidential Office with a semblance of dignity.
Later on Tuesday, Prosecutor Wu Wen-chung (吳文忠) of the Special Investigation Panel at the Supreme Prosecutors Office was reported to have joked to reporters that Chen should be given the death sentence, a comment he clumsily denied afterwards.
Chen and his government were also subject to a number of attacks during the opening of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) acerbic inaugural speech.
Then, in another show of how some in the pan-blue camp cling to conspiracy theories, incoming Minister of National Defense Chen Chao-min (陳肇敏) on Wednesday could not help himself when he told a legislative committee that “the wounds to [Chen Shui-bian’s] abdomen were not caused during the [March 19, 2004] shooting.”
Corruption proven to have been committed by Chen Shui-bian in office should be dealt with, but if the judiciary has jokers like Wu anywhere else in the system, then it will be hard to maintain the perception that the former president will receive a fair trial.
That so many people hold Chen Shui-bian in such contempt is hardly surprising, given the way the pro-unification media built him into an object against which they could vent their frustrations. This ritual went into overdrive following his narrow victory in 2004 after the election-eve assassination attempt and reached a frenzy midway through his second term.
The Chinese-language media’s habit of printing hearsay and fabrications and passing them off as fact contributed to the diminishing of the office of president, and this will have repercussions throughout Ma’s rein and probably beyond.
What is most shocking of all is the sight of a prosecutor and a newly anointed defense minister behaving in such an erratic and unprofessional manner.
If the new president considers it acceptable for civil servants and Cabinet ministers to talk in this way, then we can only speculate on what more violent members of the public might do should they happen upon the former president in a civilian context.
The treatment of the former president, however much he is detested by hardline defenders of the “one China” principle, will be a prominent test of Ma’s promise of “social reconciliation.”
For the sake of the former president and the credibility of the government, it is hoped that the members of Chen Shui-bian’s security detail hold higher professional standards than Wu and Chen Chao-min.