President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), flanked by Vice President Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) and Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) for moral support, held a press conference during which he said Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng’s (王金平) alleged undue lobbying was Taiwan’s “most shameful day.” He was so rattled he could hardly form a sentence. Perhaps it is more appropriate to say Ma issued a fatwa as part of the autumn hunt of Wang.
His words were outrageous and risible. The script should be kept for posterity, as a comedy classic. It is reminiscent of the words Mary McCarthy spoke during a 1979 interview in reference to Lillian Hellman, her political adversary: “Every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.’”
Few could surpass Ma with regard to intervention in the judiciary. On May 20, 2008, during the handover from the Democratic Progressive Party to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), when former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) had less than one hour left in office, Ma issued a fatwa against Chen. If this was not political intervention in the judiciary, then what was it?
When, in the second financial reform case, Judge Chou Chan-chun (周占春) found Chen not guilty, Ma immediately issued a statement saying that the ruling “ran counter to the public’s expectations.”
He set up a meeting with senior members of the executive, legislative and judicial branches, the result of which was a High Court ruling that found Chen guilty of “presumed actual influence.”
If Ma did not set the precedent for political intervention in the judiciary, who did? Ma lit a bonfire in the judicial system, but gets all hot under the collar when his officials have the audacity to singe a bit of it.
To see an example of truly shameful behavior, look no further than Ma.
This “most shameful day in the development of Taiwan’s democracy” was not the day the president was referring to, nor any specific day; it is the period of time from May 20, 2008, until today and it will continue. This shameful period was initiated by Ma.
Ma insists on washing his dirty political laundry in public, to the extent that the international media have found it too embarrassing to watch, with some saying that he is a “bumbler.” Taiwan has lost so much face, it does not have much left to lose.
As president, Ma cannot interfere with the speaker of the legislature because the legislature needs to be autonomous and self-regulatory. This principle is absolutely crucial to the notion of separation of powers.
Even if Wang has done wrong, under the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, how can the president make ludicrous comments like: “If this is not illegal lobbying then what is?” if he does not abide by the judicial process?
If Ma wanted to have Wang removed, he should have done it in his capacity as KMT chairman, as an internal disciplinary matter. This could have avoided a constitutional crisis, but he said: “As president, I cannot turn a blind eye to this.”
This is party-state thinking and behavior. It not only violates the constitutional system, it violates the separation of the three powers, and therefore does grievous bodily harm to democracy.
Complicit in Ma’s transgressions was Prosecutor-General Huang Shih-ming (黃世銘) — if he is not a political hatchet man, then who is? — who completely disregarded the Communication Security and Surveillance Act (通訊保障及監察法) and was quite open about going to the Presidential Office and leaking details about the case.
He used Article 44 in Chapter IV of the Republic of China Constitution to support his actions, but surely the prosecutor-general is aware that Chapter IV applies exclusively to the president. It is unconstitutional for the prosecutor-general to invoke it himself.
Above and beyond all other excuses he may want to give, in terms of the Constitution alone Huang’s leaking of intelligence to the president was a more serious transgression than former Bureau of Investigation director-general Yeh Sheng-mao’s (葉盛茂) concealment of government documents and leaking of confidential information to Chen, for which Yeh was jailed.
The title of a 1947 article by former National Taiwan University president Fu Si-nian (傅斯年) calling on then-premier Soong Tse-ven (宋子文) to resign famously read: “This kind of president simply has to go.”
If former US president Richard Nixon was forced to resign over Watergate, how can Ma stay in office after the damage he has done to Taiwan’s system of constitutional government?
Chin Heng-wei is a political commentator.
Translated by Paul Cooper