The recent deluge of allegations leveled against the Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) government and his family raises questions about how the administration should respond and, more broadly, the expanding use of slander in Taiwan's politics and China's possible role in such attacks.
The first family has been accused of various improprieties in recent months, both personal and political. Chen himself has been accused of receiving political contributions from a convicted criminal through someone from the Presidential Office. First lady Wu Shu-jen (
Desperately trying to clear his name and that of his family, Chen has said that he was willing to step down if any family member had improperly received and used Sogo Department Store gift vouchers.
Chen and Wu later filed a private criminal complaint against the accuser, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Lee Chuan-chiao (
Chen's daughter Chen Hsin-yu (陳幸妤) has also filed a lawsuit over an allegation that she had opened a US bank account specifically to launder money for her father.
Presidential Office Deputy Secretary-General Ma Yung-cheng (馬永成) has also been dogged by allegations of political and financial irregularities. He too has filed a defamation lawsuit against his accusers.
Chen described the accusations lodged against his family and administration as part of China's "soft decapitation" campaign and called on the public to use sense to judge the claims.
Lo Chih-cheng (羅致政), a political scientist at Soochow University, said it was legitimate to assume the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was involved in the slander campaign, although it did not necessarily mean that the Chinese were initiating the accusations.
"The Chinese government has made it clear that its three-pronged approach against Taiwan is public opinion warfare, psychological warfare and legal warfare," Lo said.
"Opinion warfare," which Lo said would be the main focus in the future, refers to playing games with public opinion.
The purpose is to marginalize Chen and make him a "lame duck" by challenging the credibility and legitimacy of his administration and therefore "virtually decapitating" him, Lo said.
Although people such as Chen and the first family rarely turn to legal means to settle disputes, Lo said that it was necessary to do so if they deemed the allegations to have seriously damaged their interests or those of the government.
Freedom of speech must be protected, Lo said, but freedom comes with responsibilities and the first family had a right to fight back against groundless accusations.
But, since legal proceedings were always time-consuming, taking legal action was more a political gesture than a practical solution to resolve an immediate problem, Lo said.
Lo said the administration must improve its crisis management capability as legal action was the final line of defense.
The media must also play the role of gatekeeper to prevent the spread of scuttlebutt rather than becoming the mouthpiece of irresponsible rumormongers, Lo said.
Lin Chen-yi (