EDITORIAL: Political dirty tricks must be stopped

Thu, Aug 16, 2012 - Page 8

Taiwan’s democratization is a proud achievement. The country’s transformation without bloodshed from authoritarianism to a genuine democracy has been lauded as a success story and the consolidation of its democracy through five presidential elections has been hailed as a beacon of democracy in Asia. However, how are people in Taiwan to take pride in the nation’s democratic achievements when dirty tricks are allegedly used to influence elections?

On Tuesday, the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office Special Investigation Division (SID) closed its investigation into Yu Chang Biologics Co and concluded that former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) was not involved in any wrongdoing.

However, considering the Jan. 14 presidential election was some time ago and how many voters at the time — following a months-long campaign by the pan-blue camp accusing Tsai of irregularities in the case — likely went to the polls with a negative impression of Tsai, has it not occurred to the SID that its investigation results came a little too late?

Many people cannot help but wonder whether the prosecutors were helping a certain candidate by playing along with the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) attack on Tsai’s character. The goal of the attack was achieved — Tsai lost the election.

The SID launched the investigation into the Yu Chang case in late November, a time when the presidential campaign was reaching fever pitch, with various polls suggesting Tsai and Ma were neck-and-neck. Noting this, many people have reason to doubt whether the neutrality of the state apparatus under President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has been breached.

With Tsai’s integrity intact and with the closure of the SID’s case with no indictment, some people are questioning the legitimacy of Ma’s election.

However, one question as important as the growing doubt surrounding Ma’s legitimacy is the emergence of a disturbing pattern compromising the health of the nation’s democracy: the use of a dirty trick to impede an election result.

Before the Yu Chang case, there was the shooting of Sean Lien (連勝文), son of former vice president Lien Chan (連戰), during a campaign rally for a KMT candidate for the New Taipei City (新北市) council on the eve of the Nov. 17 special municipality elections in 2010.

Many recalled how, until then, a number of polls indicated then-DPP New Taipei City mayoral candidate Tsai had a good chance of winning the race. However, following the subsequent campaign rhetoric from the KMT and its supporters that the attack was related to the election and that the DPP stood for violence, the impact of the shooting was obvious. The DPP won only two of the five special municipalities, rather than the three it had been expected to win. Then-DPP Taipei mayoral candidate Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) also suffered a larger-than-expected vote loss to incumbent Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) of the KMT.

These incidents prove the concerns expressed in a report by the International Election Observation Mission that the Jan. 14 elections were “mostly free, but only partly fair,” noting violations of administrative neutrality as among the “worrying factors” that may have affected the election outcome.

More than any other Taiwanese who value the nation’s democratic credentials, the opposition should take the lead in standing up and denouncing those who use dirty tricks to influence elections.

In a sportsmanlike fashion, Tsai said she hoped “there will be no similar nasty besmirching tactics in future election campaigns.”

That statement alone should not be the end of it.

If the DPP cannot toughen up in the face of clear dirty tricks against its former chairperson and presidential candidate, many wonder how likely it is that rubbishing tactics will be deployed again, come the 2016 presidential election.