It’s a custom to offer New Years greetings to friends and families, especially elders, on traditional Lunar New Year’s Day, the China Post wrote on January 27th this year. This referred to visits Lee Teng-hui, Taiwan’s former president and elder statesman, received from president Ma Ying-jeou and vice-president Vincent Siew on that occasion.
One can be pretty sure that neither Ma nor Lee were keen on talking with each other. They were at odds in 1999 already when Ma Ying-jeou ran for the Taipei mayorship as a “New Taiwanese” (新台湾人).
Then why the visit? Maybe just out of respect for old rules – but the timing was certainly handy. In December 2008, the Special Investigation Panel (SIP) of the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office had announced that it would investigate the former president and KMT chairman on suspicion of money laundering. Then came the respectful call on Lee’s home, by Taiwan’s current leaders. They could have paid a visit to Chen Shui-bian, another former president, too. His address was well-known all over the island, and he had to be considered innocent until proven otherwise.
It doesn’t seem that the SIP has seen its investigations against Lee through. And I’m not suggesting it should. Maybe there was nothing that justified even the initial suspicions. But from now, Ma will have to talk with Lee on every Lunar New Year. Maybe they can discuss the weather, every time.
If you choose Jimmy Lai‘s point of view (as quoted by the Time China Blog, anyway), Chen Shui-bian’s trial was a showcase for the rule of law. But that was in 2008. Back then, Jerome A. Cohen arguably agreed with Lai: “It has put criminal justice, especially criminal procedure, on the map in Taiwan, and this is something that would be wonderful to see on the mainland.”
Cohen was president Ma Ying-jeou‘s mentor at Harvard Law School. And he was much less enthusiastic about Chen Shui-bian’s trial just a few weeks later, after at least one prosecutor appeared in a skit mocking Chen.
Personally, I feel that the whole process smells. And once it starts smelling, it soon does from the taking of evidence to the verdict. It’s kind of like a contested election. When an election is allegedly fraudulent from the beginning, and if the public loses confidence in the process, just a re-count may not be enough – not if the ballot boxes themselves may be corrupted.
President Ma met Professor Cohen in Taipei on Thursday. “I’d like to leave a legacy of building a country based on the rule of law,” he said. “That is the main reason why I am willing to find time to see you today.” And Ma told Cohen that despite its free elections, the rule of law in Taiwan still had a long way to go.
We may never know if Ma Ying-jeou has “forgiven” Chen Shui-bian for defeating the KMT in two free presidential elections. The KMT as a whole certainly hasn’t. It is, after all, a very old party with venerable traditions – too venerable to accept similar judicial scrutiny as the DPP has to. That’s no great condition for true democracy.
Chances are that Ma is not going to change that, and many Taiwanese will suspect that he doesn’t even want to give it an honest try.
It might be time for the DPP to close the gap between itself and its former leader. The question isn’t only if Chen Shui-bian is guilty or not. It’s if all his rights as a defendant have been duly respected. It’s an old question in Taiwan.
Related: Kuomintang, Wikipedia