The charges against President Chen – a sign of democracy

Now if anyone here hasn’t heard already, the President of Taiwan has been implicated in a corruption scandal with his wife, with around $500,000 (US) having been supposedly appropriated from a special budget for diplomatic activities.

BBC report on the affair

Chen has now defended himself in a televised address to the country.

Taiwan news report

His defence is interesting. We have already heard that he felt he can’t disclose the full details of some of the receipts because they concerned sensitive information. Maybe, but that doesn’t tend to wash these days with many people in any country – unless they’re exceptionally naive. The other point was interesting.

He [Chen] defended himself and his wife against charges that they used 782 receipts to illegally collect NT$14.8 million from the state affairs fund. “I want to tell you that when I came into power in 2000, I felt embarrassed over receiving NT$840,000 a month, and I decided to halve the salary, which meant I took in approximately NT$5.5 million less every year,” Chen said. Because of the cut in pay, the president said, he received NT$22 million less in compensation over four years, NT$33 million less over six years, and NT$44 million over his two terms. “I want to ask you to think about whether it is possible that I would try to gain NT$14.8 million using illegal methods when I gave up such a high salary?”

Why would someone take a paycut like that, only to steal less money secretly? Then again it could be that this is not the only thing the prosecutors accuse him over. We shall have to see.

Personally I feel that Chen may well have to step down. It is embarrassing for him, but if the public is not convinced by his story and he still can’t or won’t explain what happened to the money, then he has to be the “big man” and do what’s good for the country. If he doesn’t resign in the face of general opposition, it will cause a lot of unpleasant sentiment in Taiwan until his second term would officially finish in 2008. The Presidency should be bigger than one man. If Chen can’t convince enough people to believe him, he should set an example as to how a democratically elected leader should behave.

Chen has said that he will step down if his wife is convicted, but I doubt the Taiwanese public will want to wait that long. Who knows – maybe they will. But given his unpopularity they will probably see the report as the final straw and demand he steps down now, even after hearing his side of the story.

Staying on in the face of so much pressure will also only damage his own party, the DPP. They shouldn’t have to choose between their President and a big defeat in elections next month and next year, if he expects them to help him cling to power. Again, he should put their interests above his own. It’s not as if staying on for another year and a half will help him – he would be formally charged after 2008 anyway. Maybe it’s better to face the music now.

But there is one thing that should be apparent to anyone – Taiwan is more of a democracy today than it ever has been. Can you imagine an investigation like this in the bad old days of effective one-party KMT rule in Taiwan, or the media reporting on it and then calling for the President to resign? No chance – there’d have been a lot of body-bags before something like that could have possibly happened. Yet the investigator made his report without fear of reprisals – he also insisted he was not pressured to say Chen, his wife and former aids had done nothing wrong.

So whilst many people will be sad to see their top leader formally accused of stealing money, they should take pride in the fact that the accusation can be made by public investigators (as opposed to some crazy protestors) and without fear of being silenced.

The Discussion: 2 Comments

I don’t agree. The prosecutor’s office is now a tool — though I agree an unwitting one. Since the last thing the KMT and its cronies can want is an independent prosecutor’s arm — if really true, all of them are headed for the clink — then it follows that the “independence” of this prosecution is a delusion, since Emile Sheng and other anti-Chen types are touting it.

I’m still sorting through all the data. Very interesting stuff. Did you catch how funding for dissidents in China came up? I suspect at least part of this is driven by the KMT’s need to find out which diplomatic initiatives that funding is going to.


November 6, 2006 @ 5:33 pm | Comment

In a big twist in the story, the TSU will not back the recall motion. So unless there are large numbers of DPP defectors, Chen may well stay on.

Problem for the DPP is that they could be punished at the polls – a month isn’t long enough for voters to forget about this.

November 6, 2006 @ 8:43 pm | Comment

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