Former Taipei mayor Ma Ying-jeou's (馬英九) mentor at Harvard Law School, Jerome Cohen, has labeled Ma's indictment on embezzlement charges "stunning" and "surprising."
Cohen said Ma should try to prove his innocence if he feels he was wronged.
If Ma is cleared of the charges, Cohen said there is no doubt that the former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman could run for the presidency.
During an interview with CNA, Cohen, who is now a law professor at New York University, described Ma as honest and upright. He said he felt sympathetic and sad -- just the way he felt when another of his Taiwanese students -- Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) -- was jailed for her political activities in the 1980s.
Ma and Lu both studied with at Cohen at Harvard Law School. Lu received a masters in law in 1978, while Ma received his doctorate in law in 1981.
Returning from the US in 1978, Lu joined in the pro-democracy movement. A 20-minute speech at a rally held to commemorate Human Rights Day on Dec. 10, 1979 in Kaohsiung led to her arrest and conviction for sedition.
Sentenced to 12 years, Lu was granted a medical parole because of thyroid cancer after five years and four months.
"People should give Taiwan's judicial system a chance," said Cohen, who has long paid attention to Taiwan's democratic development as well as human rights and judicial practices in China.
He said Ma's indictment was a whole new case and that the judicial system had faced greater pressure given the increasing level of inter-party confrontation.
The case could be an "interesting" challenge for Taiwan in its efforts to develop democratic politics, he said.
Meanwhile, in Taipei, President Chen Shui-bian (
It was the first time the president had commented on his former rival's indictment.
Chen made the remark during the question-and-answer session at a year-end luncheon with Presidential Office press corps at the Taipei Guest House.
Chen said he had originally hesitated to make any comment but decided he would continue to reflect and exercise caution.
Lu was also at the luncheon and said she was not surprised by Ma's announcement that he would enter the presidential race.
She said she respected his decision, but the public would be the final judge.
At a separate event yesterday, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus whip Wang Sing-nan (
Should Ma win, there would be two scenarios, he said, both of which would create a "storm" in domestic politics.
If Ma won the election, but was convicted and sentenced before his inauguration, a second election would have to be held because without the constitutional immunity to prosecution that comes with the presidency, Ma could go to jail, Wang said.
If Ma's trial was still going on at the time of his inauguration, he would enter office as a president suspected of corruption, the DPP lawmaker said.
"Either way, the nation would not be able to stand it," Wang said, urging Ma to postpone his presidential bid to 2012.
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