Unlawful lobbying is not punished with criminal penalties. The prosecutor-general and the SID are responsible for investigating and bringing charges in criminal cases. In the current controversy, they have been stressing the morality of improper lobbying, but does that entitle them to go beyond their roles by handling administrative investigations? In so doing, they are taking the place of the legislature in relation to its members, prosecutor’s evaluation committees and the Ministry of Justice in relation to prosecutors, and the Control Yuan in relation to the Minister of Justice.
Does a case of improper lobbying entitle them to employ severe methods normally reserved for serious criminal cases, such as telephone tapping and wrongfully gaining access to telephone records? Most serious of all, they have gone beyond the bounds of judicial independence by leaking the content of telephone wiretaps — which Article 18 of the Communication Security and Surveillance Act (通訊保障及監察法) says should not be made public — reporting them to Ma and making them public through press conferences. Astonishingly, they still do not seem to recognize that they have overstepped their legal powers.
Modern democracy stresses the importance of leaders abiding by the law in order to protect citizen’s constitutionally guaranteed rights from the abuse of power. For that reason, when those in power seek to pass laws that limit citizen’s freedoms they must pass legislative and judicial review.
However, in the midst of these controversies the president and the prosecutor-general have used morality to justify their over-inflated powers, while ignoring the systems and limitations laid out in the Constitution and other laws.
Under a modern political system with pluralistic values, one-sided moralism cannot justify exceeding constitutional and legal limits. If there is anything to be learned from the current political strife, it is this important lesson about the rule of law.
Lin Chia-fan is chair of the Department of Civic Education and Leadership at National Taiwan Normal University.
Translated by Julian Clegg