JR’s (Early) Weekender: How Liberal can Taiwan’s DPP Become?

To a number of observers, the evidence is clear: the indictment of former Taiwanese president Lee Teng-hui was triggered from the KMT center.

Obviously, the KMT history provides lots of evidence that would support such suspicions – and there hasn’t only been a traditional majority for the KMT in the Legislative Yuan – the government’s executive branch, and the judicial branch, too, are dominated by pan-blue leaning officials.

That said,  it didn’t necessarily take phone calls from the presidential office, from the KMT headquarters, or from any other central corridor of power to get Lee indicted. United Daily News (UDN, pan-blue) receiving advance information about the indictment is not necessarily evidence for the center’s involvement, either. An indictment may only require a number of ambitious lower-ranking officials within the judiciary who aim at big, and – apparently, anyway – opportune game. Game that might help to further their individual careers, that is.

If Lee is really an opportune target remains to be seen. For one, there’s no reason yet to believe that he were guilty as charged. And for many of those who support him, it wouldn’t make a difference if there was. Many people of Lee’s traditional constituency are themselves viewing matters in a pretty traditional way, and are accordingly tolerant of the practise he’s accused of. That the special investigators themselves are asking for a sentence that would take Lee’s presidential achievements into account, too, seems to mirror a concern that they may have much of the public opinion against them.

Public opinion, however, matters – not only in indictments of politicians, and not only in Taiwan. When a German television weatherman, Jörg Kachelmann, was tried for alleged rape, the prosecutor reportedly announced one of his moves in an interview, prior to the day in court. The defense, too, worked the public.

Lawyers in Germany have for decades used the media to try to influence the public in favour of their clients,

a professor for Communication Research told Deutsche Welle in September last year.

The main problem is that the professional integrity of Taiwan’s judiciary is by no means beyond doubt. Former president Chen Shui-bian‘s trials have hardly helped to alleviate doubts in the system’s impartiality.

The KMT is anything but civic. The DPP, on the other hand, may be striving to be civic. It is a member of the Liberal International federation, which would suggest that the party cherishes liberal values. But no organization can escape its country’s history. Liberalism in practise depends on a degree of trust in public institutions which is often absent in Taiwan. At the same time, the DPP has nationalist streaks of its own – Taiwanese, rather than Chinese, nationalism. Liberalism and nationalism are hard to reconcile.

It seems natural that in the current Taiwanese environment, the DPP’s options to become more liberal are limited. The need to struggle against KMT-dominated sovereign institutions is too obvious. But small steps toward more liberalism can be taken. Tsai Ing-wen‘s presidential nomination – and her position as the DPP’s chairperson – seem to be promising indicators. Nationalism doesn’t play a dominating role in her presidential campaign – at least not yet. Taiwanese or anti-Chinese nationalism is in fact that absent in her campaign that the KMT and affiliated media had to invent news to suggest otherwise.

Chances are that, supposed that there is a lack of public trust in the country’s institutions, Lee Teng-hui’s indictment will hurt the pan-blue camp more than the pan-green camp. But chances for that are best if the pan-green camp handles the issue without operating too far-reaching conspiracies. Taiwan’s public will watch the legal proceedings closely – the opposition’s main job now is to tell the citizens why the DPP will be better for Taiwan – in the Legislative Yuan, and in the presidential office.

And once the DPP is there, it needs to build  trust in Taiwan’s institutions. Chen Shui-bian’s eight years in the presidential office shouldn’t be taken as guidance.

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4 Responses to “JR’s (Early) Weekender: How Liberal can Taiwan’s DPP Become?”

  1. “Many people of Lee’s traditional constituency are themselves viewing matters in a pretty traditional way, and are accordingly tolerant of the practice he’s accused of.”

    I don’t think you can blame them. Thanks to the KMT-dominated judicial system, it is no longer illegal for politicians to use special funds for personal ends. If Ma were somehow reindicted today, he would certainly be not guilty even if he couldn’t find another accountant to take the fall for him. Under these circumstances, one might argue that a president or ex-president should receive the same treatment. In other words, your post is missing a bit of the context. I agree that some in the Green camp may be willing to overlook potential transgressions by Lee because he is their man. But the case itself highlights the ridiculous lack of fairness in the blue-dominated judicial system. Somehow, CSB and LTH are guilty. Yet Ma is not? And why stop there? Where are the calls within the blue camp to reevaluate the records and legacies of CCK and CKS?

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  2. Well, I have argued in other posts that KMT history doesn’t allow for a lot of trust in the judiciary’s impartiality. Besides, I didn’t mean the line about Lee’s constituency to be heavily critical of them. It was rather that, when looking at the way Lee was greeted at the TSU fundraising dinner – see picture / video behind this link[update – link repaired], it struck to me that many of his supporters there – especially elders – aren’t typically green, but highly prepared to acknowledge reverent authority where it’s showing up. In that light, not everyone in the pan-green camp would be a classical liberal or “green” person.

    And if words haven’t expressed my reservations about the KMT’s righteousness sufficiently, this picture may help to express my views without words (provided that the lads inside that cesuo can be identified as frogmen, and the guy bottom left as a KMT official.

    Last but not least, I’m aware that James Soong – if true – owing the KMT 240 mn NT-$ is handled by the KMT as a matter of negotiation, rather than of criminal prosecution, or at least civil legal proceedings. The PFP is too much needed as a majority organizer within the pan-blue camp, at least for now.

    As for CKS and CCK, I’m sure there are turds in abundance down the archives – but obviously, that would be a task for the historians, rather than of prosecutors, when it comes to their legacy and corresponding reevaluations.
    As for the KMT assets, and to whom those really belong, may however be a legal question.

    I’ve related to some context all over my recent entries here. Also for context, I’d like to say that Lee’s indictment smells bigtime. But I’m also suggesting that without a smoking gun to that end, it may be more rewarding to focus on how the DDP wants to advance Taiwan, rather than on bitching back at the KMT more than necessary. Taiwan is still travelling towards democracy and rule of law – it isn’t there yet. But people will appreciate positive messages more than scare tactics. That’s an opportunity for the pan-green camp now. The KMT has very little to show, after its four years both in the presidential office, and its majority rule in the Legislative Yuan.

    My impression – from far away – is that the KMT’s nerves are currently all on edge.

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