Calls for amnesty for jailed former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) have unexpectedly become a central issue for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) as it prepares to elect a new party chairperson. This makes a mockery of Taiwan’s democratic movement and is an astonishing low point for the DPP.
The DPP has often accused President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who is also chairman of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), of using Chen like a cash machine whenever he needs to score political points. The DPP has paid a heavy price for what happened under Chen’s leadership by losing two presidential and legislative elections. By now, however, the Chen cash machine is nearly empty and only has a marginal effect. It is ironic, then, that certain people are now dusting it off and giving Ma the chance to keep on using it.
There is nothing wrong with sympathy and compassion. It was fine for people to speak out and make sure that Chen got a fair hearing in court, and now his supporters are quite right to insist that he get proper access to medical treatment. Nobody would deny that.
It is not right, however, for the DPP to call for amnesty for Chen. To say this is not heartless — it is a matter of principle.
If Chen wants to own up to his wrongdoings and accept an official pardon, that is his own decision. The DPP has neither the right nor the duty to endorse whatever confessions Chen might or might not make.
Chen has admitted that he transferred and hid a large sum of money overseas, and that doing so was morally and legally questionable. These actions were clearly his personal behavior, and he left the DPP of his own accord to draw a line between himself and the party. The fact that he did so shows that he can still tell right from wrong, take responsibility for his own actions and face up to the issues in a court of law.
When Chen said he was innocent, DPP supporters believed him and insisted that the judiciary must give him a fair trial. However, now that he is trying to get out of jail, he has changed his tune, kowtowing and owning up to his crimes. Are the same people that supported him before now supposed to beg for mercy on his behalf?
Having come up with the idea of amnesty, Chen’s family and lawyers have latched on to the DPP, insisting that it take a stand on the issue. This puts the party in a quandary that is hard to get out of. As for Ma, all he needs to do is sit tight. No matter whether he responds to the issue or not, he still stands to gain from it.
If the DPP endorsed Chen’s confessions and called for him to be officially pardoned, it would make it easy for the KMT to brand the DPP as a party that endorses corruption. It would transform Chen’s individual behavior into a collective sin of the whole DPP, and that association would be difficult to shake off. It would also not be in keeping with Chen’s original intention when he quit the DPP, and drew a line between the party and himself.
Over the years, the DPP has won and lost elections because of Chen, but now it must not beg the government to pardon him, otherwise it will lose its footing and get itself into a big dilemma.
Chen has no justification for stirring up divisions in the DPP and even less justification for asking the party to join him in owning up to the things he did wrong. Chen knows full well that if the DPP is plagued by internal divisions and gets labeled as corrupt, it will likely be a mortal wound from which the party might never recover.