With the election campaign season approaching, the incumbent administration’s neutrality has emerged as an issue that needs to be kept under close public scrutiny.
Aside from keeping a close eye out for any abuse of administrative resources that could arise as a result of Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) acting as President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) running mate while at the same time keeping his post as head of the Executive Yuan, attention also needs to be paid to the remarks and conduct of various government officials and agencies to ensure they do not violate administrative neutrality or exploit administrative resources for bipartisan electoral gains.
Some incidents have recently given rise to such concerns among the general public.
First, we saw the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) issue a statement on Thursday last week claiming the local media had falsely reported that Member of the European Parliament Hans van Baalen had said he would vote for Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) if he were Taiwanese. Public embarrassment followed just days later when Van Baalen openly dismissed the ministry’s statement, asserting that he did indeed make such a declaration.
The ministry subsequently cited international common courtesy as a reason why foreign nationals should not get involved in or interfere in other countries’ politics.
However, it is interesting to note that the ministry’s statement also mentioned that, during his meeting with Ma last week, Van Baalen had expressed warm words to Ma and said he hoped he would get re-elected. So it is acceptable when a foreign national expresses a wish for Ma to win the election, but warrants action from the ministry when the same foreign national voices support for the opposition leader?
Van Baalen was after all only stating his personal opinion, and did not violate the Election and Recall Act (選罷法) that bans foreigners from publicly stumping for election candidates — as Nobel Peace Prize winner Betty Williams had done in 2004, when she was fined for stumping for the DPP presidential campaign.
MOFA’s duty should be to safeguard and elevate the nation’s dignity and international standing, not to pay attention to which foreign national heaps praise on opposition leaders. It would be truly shameful if the nation’s foreign ministry is to start seeing through bipartisan lenses and act as if it were a branch of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).
Another recent case stirred up controversy by potentially violating administrative neutrality. That was the case of New Taipei City (新北市) official Lee Chien-lung (李乾龍) who, under the name of a national township chief alliance, last week hosted a banquet for hundreds of township and district chiefs during which support for the Ma-Wu ticket was voiced.
While Lee argued that the event was a routine gathering that took place outside his working hours and was therefore not in any way a violation of administrative neutrality or an act of bribery, the public’s impression is that this should not have happened.
With both the KMT and the DPP campaigns picking up steam, all government officials and agencies should be reminded of their duties and their jobs on the taxpayers’ payroll — to serve the nation, not a specific political party or politician.