Sun, Oct 01, 2017 - Page 6 News List

‘Tensions’ over pardon for Chen

By Chang Kuo-tsai 張國財

It seems that a need for change has become the new constant: Should this be reformed? Should that be reformed? Should a special pardon be granted to former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁)?

The dilemma could be formulated along the lines of the much-quoted rumination of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet: To leave be, or not to leave be — that is the question.

Only a president can grant a special pardon. If President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) wants to pardon Chen, she can. If she prefers not to — that is her choice.

However, whether she wants to or not is beside the point.

The decision about whether to grant the pardon should be measured more in terms of whether most Taiwanese are behind it. While it would certainly not achieve universal support, the act of granting a special pardon is more about the degree of support that it garners.

Regrettably, in her capacity as Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairperson and during her opening address to the party’s national congress on Sunday, Tsai said that she felt it was not right to grant the pardon, as she feared doing so would “create tensions.”

However, just as personal whims have no place here, neither does the need to avoid “tensions.” This is no good reason not to act.

At the risk of being blunt, what is Tsai thinking?

Kicking the can of Chen’s fate down the road only to end up deciding that maintaining yet another “status quo” trumps granting the pardon is not a desirable option.

What will future historians think of her judgement in this situation? What will future law students think of the legal rational behind Chen’s case and behind the case for granting him a special pardon?

Today’s Taiwanese hold many views: There are reformers, progressives and conservatives. There are self-proclaimed arbiters of right and wrong, fence-sitters, ideological warriors, those who oppose for the sake of opposition, and those who agree for the sake of agreeing. There are supporters of same-sex marriage and those who are absolutely opposed to it.

Same-sex marriage is only one such contentious issue. Disagreements abound on so many other important issues, including nuclear power and capital punishment.

Against this background, any policies or reforms that the government introduces are sure to be met with applause from some and boos from others.

Is it actually possible to “avoid tensions” altogether?

Consider what has happened with pension reform, judicial reform and changes to the ratio of classical to modern Chinese used in high-school curricula. Which one of these issues did not produce clashes of opinion?

Consider, too, the government’s proposals for the Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program. Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators have boycotted them, but rational-minded members of the public are also concerned that the proposals represent a massive money pit.

Did Tsai step back from the proposals in the interest of “avoiding tensions”?

The failure of Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) and former Taipei Police Department commissioner Chiu Feng-kuang (邱豐光) to attend the inauguration of Chiu’s successor, Taipei Police Department Commissioner Chen Jia-chang (陳嘉昌), might signal tensions between Ko and the DPP.

Did the government sound a retreat rather than lock horns with Ko over selecting someone to head the Taipei police?

There was also the “one fixed day off and one flexible rest day” policy that employers did not support and workers were unhappy with, but the government went ahead with it.

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