The involvement of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Taipei City Councilor Lai Su-ju (賴素如), a lawyer and former KMT spokeswoman who also runs the party chairman’s office for President and KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), in a corruption investigation is indicative of two things.
The first is that the KMT is a corrupt institution that is impossible to reform — something that everyone is aware of and that Ma alone feigns ignorance of.
The second is that the newfound spirit of independence demonstrated by the state prosecutors in investigating Lai means that Taiwan may have a hope yet in the fight against corruption.
When the nation was under the party-state system, anyone who joined the KMT was motivated by a thirst for status and wealth, and had the need to protect these things once they had acquired them.
Nothing has changed since the country’s democratization: Those who have joined the party since then and those who were already members are still seeking status, money, special privileges and protection. The KMT will only ever get more corrupt because it is resistant to reform.
Ma likes to talk about fighting corruption, yet it exists all around him. These latest allegations have left him with egg on his face and prompted calls for him to stand down.
If the president genuinely wants to turn things around, as he claims to, he should either leave the KMT to prove that he is “clean,” or disband the party and return its ill-gotten assets to the government in the name of justice so the nation’s democracy can be normalized.
However, he is not going to do that; instead, Ma’s response to the scandal has been to rally the troops around him, call on the corrupt institution to regroup and reaffirm his position as its leader. He has no intention of rooting out graft, or of setting Taiwan’s democracy on the right path.
The judiciary has had to put up with Ma’s incompetence and intransigence for too long, and has been made to conduct its business according to the dictates of the party-state. Now it has been presented with a historic opportunity to re-establish judicial independence, clean up the political system and make a significant contribution to the nation’s democracy.
Members of the judiciary often speak of the need for justice to be served, so it is clear that there are quite a few among them that have a strong sense of what is right. They have suffered from interference by the party-state and been deprived of their independence for too long, therefore it is unsurprising that they feel frustrated with how things are at present.
Prosecutors have recently investigated a succession of Ma’s cohorts — first was former Executive Yuan secretary-general Lin Yi-shih (林益世), then-Nantou County Commissioner Lee Chao-ching (李朝卿) and now Lai — and this display of independence has begun to raise eyebrows.
The public is not asking much of the judiciary; all Taiwanese want is for it to be fair and just, not act out of self-interest, and to play its rightful part in the legal system. The public wants the judiciary to uphold consistent standards and reject any political interference, conducting investigations and delivering verdicts based solely on evidence. Once the judiciary meets these criteria, the public will be satisfied.
Ma is surrounded by corruption; he has nothing left to offer the nation. If Taiwan is to become a fairer, more just place, if its politics are to become less corrupt and more transparent, the nation will have to rely on more members of the judiciary opening their eyes to what is going on and fighting it. They must stand up and protect the independence and dignity of the judiciary if it is to become a fair and just institution.
James Wang is a media commentator.
Translated by Paul Cooper