Ever since he was taken into custody in December 2008, the Presidential Office has made sure that former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) — the nation’s top “troublemaker,” if we believe the propaganda — did not make waves. It did so via a complicit judiciary that time and again denied the former president his freedom by using tenuous claims to justify extensions to his detention, which now approaches 700 days.
Although Chen managed to publish a few books and articles from prison, the government’s efforts to erase him from the political scene were largely successful, an accomplishment that, admittedly, was compounded by a decision by the Democratic Progressive Party — the party Chen once led — to distance itself from him as it sought to reconsolidate after difficult years. By neutralizing the otherwise ostentatious former president, President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration paved the way for its controversial rapprochement with Beijing, which, had he been a free man, Chen would surely have relentlessly attacked publicly.
That was until the Taipei District Court on Friday said it had found no evidence proving that Chen and his wife, Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍), were guilty of corruption and money laundering in a bank merger deal. No sooner had the decision been made than Ma and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) cried foul, prompting officials — with the president in the lead — to sound worryingly like their counterparts across the Taiwan Strait, where, as Richard McGregor writes in The Party, his study of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), “judges must remain loyal — in order — to the Party, the state, the masses and, finally, the law.”
While the “Harvard-educated” Ma reiterated his belief in the inviolability of an independent judiciary, his enthusiasm seemed to collapse once the same judiciary handed down a decision he did not like. This led him and others to engage in vague discussions about the “will” and “expectations” of the people, much as CCP officials tend to arrogate upon themselves the desires of 1.3 billion Chinese.
Only by not “deviating from public expectations,” Ma said, could the judiciary “protect the interests of the good and the honest,” from which remark we can conclude that, in Ma’s view, Chen is neither. So much for the president not commenting upon or taking sides in what remains an ongoing case. Also, as someone who studied law, Ma should know better than to presume someone is guilty before a court has rendered its final judgment.
Furthermore, for someone who has shown such disregard for public opinion in his China policies, only to summon “public expectations” when he runs into trouble, is dishonesty at its most transparent.
Another irony, which is unlikely to be lost on Ma watchers, is that although the KMT sought to smother the Chen story for almost two years, it is now doing an about-face by seeking to maximize publicity over the former president’s supposed ills, which will culminate with a Nov. 21 rally in support of Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) where “anti-corruption” will figure prominently. Everyone knows that despite a recent string of accusations of corruption within his administration, the message will not be directed at Hau, but rather Chen, which constitutes another attempt by the KMT to use national politics for good effect in the Nov. 27 local elections.
The ghost of Chen, long locked in a crypt in Tucheng City (土城), Taipei County, is being resuscitated not by his supporters, but by the very party that wants him forgotten. Thus, the lingering power of the former president, who, though locked in his cell, has once again become involved in politics — this time without having to say a single word.
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