Mon, Nov 06, 2006 - Page 3 News List

Presidential Office in crisis: Indictment considered a victory for democracy

RULE OF LAW Taiwan has come a long way since the martial law era, as evidenced by the willingness of prosecutors to go after big political names, analysts said

STAFF WRITER , WITH AP, TAIPEI

Taiwan's young democracy may seem to be in a mess, with the first lady indicted on corruption charges and prosecutors saying they have enough evidence to go after the president.

But analysts say there's an important bright spot: Taiwan's democratic system is showing that it's mature enough to have legal officials prosecute some of the nation's most powerful people.

This would be unthinkable in many Asian countries.

And it certainly wouldn't have happened 20 years ago in Taiwan, when the president enjoyed almost unlimited powers under martial law.

The scandal exploded on Friday when prosecutors announced they were holding President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) accountable for his role in the alleged theft of NT$ 14.8 million (US$450,000) from a "state affairs fund." The fund is a discretionary budget with relatively little oversight.

They also indicted his wife, Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍), for allegedly taking the money.

They said Chen would be brought to justice upon leaving office, when his presidential immunity from prosecution lapses.

The development shocked many people who had strong doubts about whether their still-evolving democracy was mature enough for prosecutors to investigate top leaders without interference from above.

But the recent moves against Chen and Wu have changed perceptions, said Philip Yang (楊永明) of National Taiwan University.

The prosecutors' decision proves "that Taiwan has entered the stage of forming and consolidating a system of law and affirming democratic values," Yang said. "This is a critical stage on the way to becoming a mature democracy."

Yang acknowledged it was understandable for many Taiwanese to be surprised that the prosecutors had confronted Chen and his wife head-on.

"The feelings of doubt about the Taiwanese judiciary did not come out of nowhere," he said. "Any time there is a change from authoritarian to democratic rule, it is inevitable that past influences will still have an effect on the party and politicians in power."

Andrew Yang (楊念祖) of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies said that beyond its implications for Taiwan, the prosecutors' move could also have an impact on neighboring China, which has serious corruption problems of its own.

"The Taiwanese experience could put a lot of pressure on Chinese politicians in terms of their own anti-corruption campaign," Andrew Yang said. "Chinese people could pressure their government to do more against corruption and adopt the Taiwanese model."

He was referring to the widespread corruption in China, which has become a serious concern for the Chinese Communist Party.

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