Mon, Jan 05, 2009 - Page 3 News List

ANALYSIS: Lee’s citizenship drama could hit where it hurts

PRIME-TIME SHOWWhile the KMT argues that it reacted quickly enough to salvage its image, others contend that the controversy could haunt the man at the very top

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

The almost year-long melodrama of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Diane Lee’s (李慶安) suspected dual citizenship reached the end of Act One when she “suspended” her legislative authority on Dec. 25 following a letter by the US Department of State that showed there was no documented record of her giving up her US citizenship.

Lee now faces charges of tax evasion and violation of the Nationality Act (國籍法), which bars government officials from holding dual citizenship.

If she fails to produce evidence to prove her innocence by the end of this month, Lee could be recalled as a legislator or asked to return the salary she received during her past 14 years as an elected official.

Lee argues that she obtained permanent residency in the US in 1985 and citizenship in 1991, but automatically lost her US citizenship when she became a public official in Taiwan.

In March last year, she became the focus of a controversy over lawmakers holding dual citizenship after the Chinese-language Next Magazine reported that she had a US passport.

Lee continues to deny she has US citizenship and says the Department of State is still reviewing a document proving the nullification of her US citizenship.

Nevertheless, she chose to “suspend” her legislative authority and salary until the review is completed. She later announced she would also stop attending KMT caucus meetings and gave up her KMT membership until the matter is clarified.

The controversy spiraled into a possible criminal offense when the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus last Monday released a document from the US government obtained from a Web site showing details of Lee’s income tax refund from the US government for this year.

With the controversy threatening to get out of hand, the KMT’s Evaluation and Discipline Committee stepped in after a meeting chaired by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) attended by four senior party members reached a consensus that the party must waste no time in tackling the matter. One day before the committee was to meet, however, Lee announced her immediate resignation from the party, saying she could not bear to see her party criticized by the public because of the case, while reiterating that the US government had yet to provide a final response.

Rather than meting out punishment on the four-term legislator, the Evaluation and Discipline Committee accepted Lee’s withdrawal and revoked her KMT membership.

Chao Yung-mao (趙永茂), a political science professor at National Taiwan University, said the KMT’s procrastination had significantly sullied the party’s image.

The KMT maintains it reacted with appropriate speed.

“A political party’s image is not a multiple choice question, but rather a true or false one,” he said. “Political responsibility should always precede legal accountability, even when … illegal acts are not committed.”

While the KMT did not take action until the Presidential Office realized the severity of the matter, Chao said, the party’s inaction only showed that it was out of touch with the public and lacked political acumen.

Comparing local politicians with those of countries such as Japan, Chao said it seemed Taiwanese politicians took their political credibility less seriously.

While it was common practice for Japanese politicians who made a blunder or were involved in a scandal to resign, it was usually not the case here, he said.

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