The selective application of law is no law at all

By Mei-chin Chen 陳美津  / 

Mon, Apr 18, 2011 - Page 8

An open letter to President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) signed by 34 foreign academics and writers criticizing the government’s timing and motives in accusing 17 former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government officials with having “failed to return” 36,000 documents during the DPP administration provoked a strong reaction from the Ma administration.

Presidential Office spokesperson Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強) said on Monday last week that the Republic of China is a country ruled by law and the government had no choice, but to follow that law.

However, a Taiwan-based lawyer wrote in a letter to the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper) that Lo was not very convincing because the government itself was not following the law. He said the Ma administration was only accusing the 17 DPP officials, but not blaming those Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) officials who were members of the transition team in 2008, and therefore directly responsible for receiving documents from DPP officials.

If there are any missing documents, KMT officials are equally responsible and should also be investigated by the Control Yuan.

Another writer, a university professor, offered some insight into why the government had reacted so strongly to the open letter. He said that the response was not targeted at the open letter’s signatories, but rather the voting public who — in the view of these officials — do not have the ability to think independently. This demonstrates that the overreactions were politically calculated and aimed at winning next year’s presidential election.

The professor also said Lo’s accusation that the foreign academics were “interfering“ in Taiwan’s internal affairs was palpably absurd.

He said that the academics and writers were all experts in their respective fields and had been supportive of freedom and democracy in Taiwan for many decades. The comments from such friends of Taiwan should be welcomed not rejected, he said.

A retired civil servant recounted how when the KMT was in power the different ministries were run in a chaotic manner, but when the DPP came to power in 2000, the government became much more efficient and effective. Part of that was strict guidelines on the handling of official documents, every one being registered and coded after it was received. In other words, it should be very easy to find out where the missing documents are by simply checking the records.

The retiree urged the Ma administration to refrain from vague statements relating to 36,000 “missing documents,” otherwise it would be difficult not to consider such accusations spurious and politically motivated.

Letters and opinion pieces from a cross-section of readers in Taiwan show that many in the nation doubt the credibility of officials in the Ma administration on this issue and believe it to be an attempt to discredit members of the former DPP government.

This selective enforcement of the law by taking “legal” action against former DPP officials started in November 2008, when the Ma government initiated judicial proceedings against a number of individuals.

Statements from the Presidential Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the KMT that “the ROC is a country of law and order” and that “any action that violates the law will be dealt with according to the law” sound eerily like statements coming out of Beijing after the arrest of artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未).

Taiwanese have worked very hard to make our country a democracy. The recent move by the Ma administration represents backsliding away from the basic principles of democracy and rule of law. I trust that Taiwanese will see through these tactics and vote for a change in government next year.

Mei-chin Chen is a commentator living in Washington.