It does not say much for the nation’s political ethos when candidates planning to run for a major political post emphasize their legal teams more than they do their policy proposals or job qualifications.
They are not seeking legal minds to help draft well-thought-out regulations or formulate strategies, but to stand ready to file lawsuits against their rivals at the slightest whiff of defamation or slander.
This is not about a handful of lawyers on either side, but dozens. Not only are political aspirants wasting money — not their own, of course, but political contributions — but they are poised to waste taxpayers’ dollars as well by tying up the courts with suits and countersuits. One can even give a nod toward environmentalism and pause to consider countless trees being turned into paper to document these legal maneuvers.
Running for a political office does not mean sacrificing the right to defend your name and reputation, but to focus on building legal fortifications before campaigning begins seems to be more concerned with mudslinging, rather than reasoned debate. It makes a mockery of the right to free speech.
Former Taipei EasyCard Co chairman Sean Lien (連勝文), who hopes to be the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) candidate for Taipei mayor, formally announced his bid on Monday — although it had been widely expected for months. He said he had pulled together a group of lawyers who would serve as his campaign’s “aircraft carrier” — ready to protect him by filing defamation suits against anyone making false allegations about his wealth, his family or his character.
His spokesperson later clarified that Lien would only take legal action against “character assassination.”
Two other mayoral hopefuls are equally ready for combat, having forged a legal alliance, although they said they will be defending others, not themselves. Lawyer Wellington Koo (顧立雄), who would like to become the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) candidate, and screenwriter Neil Peng (馮光遠), an independent, announced on Tuesday that they had jointly established a “submarine team” of 30 volunteers to defend people who are sued by Lien’s team.
Election-related lawsuits are nothing new for Koo, who spent a good deal of time in 2004 defending then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and then-vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) against a pan-blue camp suit challenging their re-election that year, as well as helping the DPP battle a Taiwan High Court suit seeking to have the presidential election declared a fraud.
Partisan legal maneuvers are standard in Taiwan, but this election year could prove unusual in that some courtroom battles are likely to involve people from the same party.
Lien fired at least one pre-emptive shot even before his candidacy announcement. On Jan. 11, he filed a defamation suit against KMT Taipei City Councilor Chung Hsiao-ping (鐘小平), a rival for the KMT mayoral nomination, over comments Chung made on a political talk show. Chung alleged that investments Lien made as chairman cost Taipei EasyCard Co more than NT$270 million (US$8.9 million).
Lien’s suit seeks NT$5 million in compensation and the publication of an apology in seven major newspapers.
With just under nine months to go before the seven-in-one local polls are held on Nov. 27, the elections are shaping up to be a series of very ugly, very personal battles fought more in the courts than in debates and through street campaigns. Regardless of the legal victories, there are already two clear losers: Taiwanese voters and the nation itself.
Well-defined, well-planned programs that raise living standards, promote development and preserve the environment are what the nation needs. Unfortunately, they seem to be exactly what politicians and aspirants are ill-equipped and reluctant to provide.