Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), in his capacity as Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) chairman, was last week forced to intervene in an ongoing plagiarism scandal that threatened to engulf TPP Legislator Tsai Pi-ru (蔡壁如). Tsai’s master’s degree from Takming University of Science and Technology was on Thursday last week revoked after a review by its research ethics committee. Without admitting guilt, Tsai resigned on Friday, following guidance from Ko.
It is sometimes difficult to see where the real and widespread systemic flaws in Taiwan’s higher education end and the political parties’ baying for blood begins. It is good that the extent of the plagiarism issue has been unearthed, but as it is so widespread, the focus should be on addressing the underlying issues in higher education, rather than on the individual offenders.
However, that does not suit the objectives of the political parties seeking to attack their rivals in the run-up to next month’s local elections. Former Hsinchu mayor Lin Chih-chien (林智堅), who was the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) candidate in the Taoyuan mayoral race, was the first to fall. He did not concede guilt either, although the results of a National Taiwan University academic ethics review committee made his position untenable. It must have been difficult for Lin to withdraw his candidacy, not only because it has put a major obstacle in his political career, but it also casts a pall over his previous achievements after two terms as Hsinchu mayor.
Tsai has been a prominent member of the TPP, and for her to fall on her sword at this point would be equally damaging to her reputation. This, and that gaining a legislative seat is no small feat, even if only on the party’s legislator-at-large list, would have made the decision to quit difficult. Ko’s continued support of her through the controversy had already opened him to accusations of double standards, considering his negative appraisal of Lin’s integrity in his case.
In terms of election strategy, having a major name such as Lin fall so early in the race at least allowed the DPP to regroup and rally behind a replacement candidate. Despite the political damage to the party as a whole, it can at least draw a line, albeit a messily scrawled one, under the affair. The focus on Lin’s personal integrity has since dissipated and spread instead to the issue of plagiarism itself, and to the next to be accused.
The scandal has also reached TPP Legislator Ann Kao (高虹安), standing for Hsinchu mayor, the position vacated by Lin, and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Taoyuan mayoral candidate Simon Chang (張善政), running for the job Lin was to campaign for. Chang would be a major scalp, having served as premier under former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and standing for vice president on the same KMT ticket as former Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) in 2020. Kao and Chang remain in their respective races and therefore risk the controversy continuing to damage their reputations and chances.
How many more major scandals are being held in reserve by rival parties to claim scalps nearer the election?
The inescapable conclusion to this string of plagiarism controversies is that the problem runs deep, and is not exclusive to the political class, and certainly not, by some strange coincidence, to major political candidates that rivals are waiting for any chance to bring down. After the elections are over, perhaps the politicians can turn their attention to dealing with the core problem.
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