On May 31, the legislature passed an amendment to the Accounting Act (會計法) that decriminalizes certain illegal uses of public funds, including the misuse of special allowances by former Non-Partisan Solidarity Unionlegislator Yen Ching-piao (顏清標), and the misuse of research funds by National Taiwan University Hospital intensive care unit director Ko Wen-je (柯文哲). However, former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) misuse of the state affairs fund was not included.
Yen’s special allowances and Chen’s state affairs funds are similar, in that both were used to reward subordinates, entertain guests and give presents.
The actions of Yen, currently in prison for spending public funds in hostess bars during his term as Taichung County Council speaker, were no better than those of Chen, who used the funds to buy jewelry for his wife.
Such different treatment in the amendment is political persecution that consigns Chen to a virtual death sentence. No wonder he allegedly attempted to commit suicide after hearing the news.
In response to Chen’s alleged suicide attempt, the Ministry of Justice simply said that he is serving his term in prison for four other corruption cases, including the Lungtan case (龍潭案), while the state affairs funds case is still in progress. Therefore, the ministry says whether he should stay in prison or not has nothing to do with recent developments.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) also said that the cases of Yen and Chen are different.
This is nonsense. Nobody knows for certain how the current trial will conclude. Even if the court decides to sentence Chen, the maximum combined sentence for multiple crimes is 20 years.
Chen is already serving a 20-year term for the four other corruption cases, so the result of this trial will not mean an increase in how long he spends in jail, it will just be another humiliation thrown at him, the result of enmity toward the former president. If the court abides by the previous ruling of life imprisonment in the first instance, Chen will spend the rest of his life in prison anyway.
Regardless of which one the Ma administration is hoping for, it is all the result of shameless hatred and cold calculation.
Jerome Cohen, a law professor at New York University and a former teacher of Ma’s at Harvard, has said that while Chen’s behavior was repugnant and deserved to be punished according to the law, he should be given a fair trial, and his human rights should not be violated.
Unfortunately, the Ma administration has not listened.
All three branches of government — the executive, the judicial and the legislative — have been complicit in Chen’s political persecution, from his initial detention to the circumstances of his custody, from the way the judges presiding over his case were replaced to the exclusion of his case in the latest amendments to the Accounting Act. This has fed the public’s sympathy toward him.
As a result, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has found itself in a dilemma over its approach to its former leader, considering the increasing imbalance between Chen’s human rights and judicial justice.
When Chen said he wanted to rejoin the party, DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) gave a speech telling party members to show their humanity and not to be too calculating.
People throughout the party were worried about the repercussions of letting Chen back in, for these would have been considerable. DPP legislators would not commit to signing a petition in support of his return, while party leaders did their best to avoid the press and, when unsuccessful, were reluctant to say whether they supported Chen’s application.
The party’s head office also passed the buck to the local chapter, telling it to review Chen’s application by itself, and the local chapter later passed the buck back to head office.
The two sides were at each other a dozen times in the space of a few days before the local chapter announced that it would conduct a “preliminary review,” leaving a “substance review” to the head office. The party’s Central Standing Committee had no choice but to pass the buck to the head office’s party membership application team.
Su’s statement was rather strong. Although he dared not say it clearly, the word “calculating” in his statement refers to some party members’ claim that the DPP will lose the 2014 and 2016 elections if it allows Chen to rejoin the party.
DPP caucus convener Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) echoed Su’s statement, saying that Chen’s eight-year rule is part of the party’s history, and that it would be opportunistic should he be denied the opportunity to rejoin the DPP and kept at arm’s length.
As Ker said, the merits and demerits of the party’s eight-year rule were not solely down to Chen, and that all party members who served in his administration should take collective responsibility. This is odd. It is Chen that wants to rejoin the party. His application should be put under the spotlight, not the party itself.
I believe that Ker made the comments in response to Ko, who refused to sign a petition supporting Chen’s return because it was not the right time, claiming that the party would lose the 2014 and 2016 elections if it did not distance itself from Chen.
Moreover, Ko suggested that Su and Ker hold a conference to discuss the merits and demerits of Chen’s eight-year rule as soon as possible, and acknowledge the party’s record while in office.
Ker’s response was quite clever: He argued that reviewing Chen’s performance would be a huge undertaking for the party, and that to review the performance of whoever served within the Chen administration would be nigh impossible. In other words, if the party is unable to review the performance of all the party members who benefited from Chen’s presidency, it is unnecessary to review Chen’s performance, and the party should approve his application.
However, according to this logic, it was wrong for the Chinese Communist Party to have an overall review of the merits and demerits of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東).
As Ker said, rejecting Chen’s application without acknowledging and reviewing the DPP’s history or sharing the responsibility together is opportunistic.
This might sound legitimate on the surface. However, if the party welcomes Chen without reviewing itself first, it will not only be regarded as opportunistic, it will also be condemned by the public. In that case, it is doomed to lose the 2014 and 2016 elections. This should certainly be taken into consideration.
Above all, calculation is the very essence of politics, and those who cannot calculate have no business being in the game. The problem does not lie in calculation, indeed the DPP must calculate the gains and losses for the sake of the public, as well as of the party.
In the past, Chen and the DPP’s heavyweights damaged the party by the populist measure of forcing it to pass a constitutional amendment halving the number of seats in the legislature. Today, party leaders are opening a door for Chen for the sake of their own power. How can such a party regain power?
Lin Cho-shui is a former Democratic Progressive Party legislator.
Translated by Eddy Chang