Posts tagged ‘cronyism’

Friday, April 19, 2013

Chinese Media Control: Three further Efforts

News from foreign (or outside-border) sources must no longer be used by Chinese press people without prior authorization, Radio Australia‘s Mandarin service quotes a notice from China’s SARFT (State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television). Also part of a move to standardize editorial behavior are the management of news websites, and of blogging and microblogging – three further efforts combined. According to Radio Australia, editors and journalists are also told to get approval from their work units before registering with a microblogging platform (probably particularly before registering with Sina Weibo).

Reporters without Borders (RSF) published a statement on Wednesday, roundly condemning the SARFT directive. RSF believes that embarrassing revelations about China’s leaders in foreign media – particularly about the alledged fortunes acquired by former chief state councillor Wen Jiabao‘s and current party general secretary and state chairman Xi Jinping‘s families – had triggered the move.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Cultural Revolutions, Great and Small

March 2012 in China was a month of power struggles – that can be safely said, because one member of the polit bureau, Bo Xilai, fell from power.

Then there was chief state councillor Wen Jiabao‘s press conference, on March 14. His remark that a historic tragedy like the cultural revolution could occur again, and that reform was therefore an urgent task, can be interpreted as anything from a call for far-reaching liberalization, to just a handful of technicalities.

According to Sinostand,

If the economy slows or abruptly halts, then the void will have to be filled somehow. That could be done through political reforms that give direct accountability to the people, or some kind of scapegoat could be used to consolidate angst in a direction away from the government. I suspect Wen Jiabao’s calls for the former are in hopes of avoiding the latter.

John Garnaut listened to Hu Dehua‘s family history. Hu Dehua is the third and youngest son of former party chairman Hu Yaobang, a reformer who was ousted by the party establishment in 1987, and died in 1989.

Garnaut mainly recorded Hu Dehua’s story, apparently. It was published by Foreign Policy, on Thursday. At times, it doesn’t seem easy to tell what is Hu’s account, and where Garnaut may be drawing either on Hu’s story, or on sources he had previously known. But Hu Dehua himself is quoted with a statement which corresponds with Sinostand’s interpretation of Wen Jiabao’s mention the Cultural Revolution.

Hu Dehua told his father how pessimistic he felt about his country’s future. Hu Yaobang agreed that the methods and ideologies of the 1987 anti-liberalization movement came straight from the Cultural Revolution. But he told his son to gain some historical perspective*), and reminded him that Chinese people were not joining in the elite power games as they had 20 years before. He called the anti-liberalization campaign a “medium-sized cultural revolution” and warned that a small cultural revolution would no doubt follow, Hu Dehua told me.

Hu Yaobang also told his son that as society developed, the middle and little cultural revolutions would gradually fade from history’s stage.

If Wen Jiabao’s reference to the Cultural Revolution wasn’t mainly meant to be merely a punch into Bo Xilai’s face – which is quite possible, too -, China’s chief state councillor doesn’t seem to believe that such a degree of societal development which would make middle and little cultural revolutions disappear has yet been reached, and he wouldn’t even rule out another big one.

But while Garnaut’s Foreign-Policy article is definitely a scoop, and while one can be pretty sure that Hu Dehua didn’t simply talk with a foreign correspondent because he felt like it, one shouldn’t think of Hu’s or Garnaut’s account as something carved in stone, either.

Hu Yaobang was largely airbrushed from official history after his purge in 1987. But because he did not publicly challenge the Communist Party, he maintained his legacy and his supporters, including all of the current and likely future party chiefs and premiers: Hu Jintao, Wen Jiabao, Xi Jinping, and Li Keqiang. All four regularly visit the Hu family home during Spring Festival. But only Wen Jiabao has publicly honored his mentor’s legacy.

The picture chosen from the Hu Yaobang family photo collection shows Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao standing next to Hu Yaobang, and it supports the message of the paragraph quoted above. But when a man is the CCP’s chairman and secretary general, where else would aspiring cadres want to stand?

I have no great doubts that the feelings of both Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao towards Hu Yaobang and his family remained friendly indeed. Wen Jiabao or one of his top officials aren’t unlikely authorizers of Hu Dehua’s meeting with  Garnaut. But that doesn’t mean that Hu Jintao or Wen Jiabao would need to see eye to eye with Hu Yaobang or Hu Dehua, on matters of liberalization. Having seen former Nazi and Communist foot soldiers sitting next to each other and having a beer in West Germany’s 1970s, I seem to understand that no matter how deep political and ideological differences may run, human feelings or even friendship may outlast totalitarianism – if those who retain some human feelings, no matter how low life may get, survive the ideologies at work.

Bo Xilai is out. If he will actually be tried – for alleged corruption, or for offense against party discipline, or whatever, will be a different question. It has been suggested that his adversaries, i. e., apparently, most of the top party leaders,  may shy away from bringing him to trial, because this would deepen the public impression that the party leadership may not be united.

But another explanation would be a fear that such a trial, too, could amount to a little or middle cultural revolution, and could even lead to a big one in the end.
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Note

*) Wang Meng (王蒙), a Chinese writer and former politician, describes similar discussions between a cadre and his son, in the late days of the Cultural Revolution, in The Butterfly (1983, partly auto-biographical). The father’s attitude in Wang’s novel is becoming more liberal, but a gulf remains between the ways the cadre and his son see their country, as the son’s lesson drawn from the Cultural Revolution is to distrust the state as a matter of principle.

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Related

» No World Outside, March 28, 2012

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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Bo Xilai’s sudden Exit and Political Reform: between Negation and Affirmation

Recent comment from He Weifang (贺卫方), a Beijing University professor of political science and law, has caught some attention outside China, too, but apparently mostly in Taiwanese media, and at Deutsche Welle (quoted here by Wenxue City). He reportedly analyzed reports about Bo Xilai‘s fall from power as reflected in two Hong Kong papers, Ming Pao (明报) and Sing Tao (星島). His remarks refer to Wen Jiabao‘s press conference on March 14, but probably beyond the Q & A quoted in my post there.

If He analyzed HK papers’ reports, he also got questions from at least one HK reporter, by e-mail. The two questions and answers (links within the following blockquote were added during translation):

Q1: Bo Xilai’s Chongqing model gained a popular backing when wealth gap yawns wide. His policies in Chongqing indeed narrowed wealth gap and gained popular support from residents there. I was wondering if his demise would end his Chongqing model completely? Or in some way, steer people’s attention from the good aspects of Chongqing model?

A: It is generally believed that the so-called “Chongqing Model” is mainly shaped by three aspects: “red culture” on the political level, “targeted actions against dark and evil forces in Chongqing“, and the reduction of the income gaps between the poor and the rich. The most criticized aspects are the former two, although there is support for the two of them in Chongqing and elsewhere. The third aspect isn’t that controversial. However, all data published concerning the efficiency of the measures taken to narrow the income gap are actually issued by the Chongqing authorities, and therefore lacking neutral assessment. Also, we can see that the whole process is strongly government-led, whose focus isn’t on creating a market logic of equal opportunities. If this approach will or will not lead to mistakes in financial policies, including the rural land policies‘ impartiality, is also questionable. And then there are concerns about life today being lead on future earnings, short-term inputs being made to curry favor with the public, which may come at high future costs.

答:一般认为,所谓的重庆模式主要由三方面内容构成:政治层面上的红色文化,执法层面上的“打黑除恶”以及民生方面的缩小贫富差距。最受诟病的是前两者,虽然在重庆和其他地方,似乎也有一些人人对于“唱红”和“打黑”表达支持。第三方面内容相对较少争议。不过,那些举措究竟对于缩小贫富差距产生了怎样的效果,目前得到的信息都是由重庆当局发布的,缺少中立的评估。另外,我们可以看到整个过程是在政府强势主导下进行的,其重点并非创造机会均等的市场逻辑。这种做法是否会带来财政决策中的失误,包括重庆所推行的农村土地政策的公正性,都是大可怀疑的。还有寅吃卯粮的隐忧,短期内的高投入讨好了民众,但是却需要未来付出巨大的代价。

Q2: Bo Xilai’s ouster is welcomed by liberals and reformists, and what do you think his fall means for China’s current stagnating political reform?I noticed in your post yesterday on sina weibo*) you commented that it has tremendous for political reform in China.Can you elaborate it more?

A: Bo Xilai’s removal means that the currently highest level of policymakers reject the use policies with similarities to the cultural revolution to solve problems within the system and within society. Obviously, the way Bo acted and publicized himself played a role, too. The reason why I believe that this event is important for China’s future is that it shows that in recent years, the once extremely powerful [unable to translate this - JR] 嚣尘上且颇具蛊惑力 traditonal socialist pattern has suffered negation within the CCP mainstream. This negation is very important, but the most important question for the future is about “affirmation”, i. e. what the contents of structural political reform [or reform of the political system] will be, and by which measures and strategies the designated goal will be realized. Chief state councillor Wen Jiabao constantly suggested structural political reform, and on certain occasions, he put forward some specific goals, such as elections, freedom of the press and judicial independence, etc., but the obvious conflicts between traditional socialist ideology with these kinds of democratic and rule-of-law values remain obstacles which are difficult to overcome. Besides, to get rid of the difficult situation [caused by] powerful interest groups constitutes a grave test.

答:薄之免职意味着,现在最高决策层拒绝用类似文革式政策解决制度与社会中的问题,当然,导致这样的结果也跟薄本人过于张扬的个性和做派有关。之所以我认为该事件对中国未来的发展意义重大,是因为它表明,近年来甚嚣尘上且颇具蛊惑力的传统社会主义模式遭受到中共主流的否定。这种“否定”非常重要,不过,未来最重大的问题仍在于“肯定”,那就是政治体制改革究竟包含怎样的内容,以及通过怎样的措施和策略实现设定的目标。温家宝总理不断地倡言政治体制改革,某些场合也提出过某些具体目标,如选举、新闻自由以及司法独立等,但是,传统社会主义意识形态与这类民主和法治价值之间的明显冲突仍是中共难以逾越的障碍。另外,破除权贵利益集团困局也是一个严峻的考验。

He’s comment seems to suggest that Wen Jiabao’s exit, scheduled to happen within less than a year, will neither spell the beginning, or the end of political reform. However, Ming Pao quoted He as saying that Wen should be considered a sincere promoter of political reform (雖然無說清內容,可能是「天機不可泄露」,但可以肯定他是一個真誠的政治改革推動者).

One reason as to why the international media didn’t make much of He’s comments may be that he is no insider, and not one of the CCP-leaning scholars who are – presumably -  occasionally used by the party to distribute statements which party officials don’t want to make themselves. By these standards, there is nothing revealing in He’s comments, but they do seem to offer some perspective – beyond the Hu Jintao / Wen Jiabao years.

I’m not suggesting that affirmation (of new values) is going to succeed the negation of the traditional-socialist ones. He isn’t doing that either – he refers to change management as a grave test (一个严峻的考验). However, while the step after “negation” – i. e. affirmation of new values – is one He would like to see, the party is likely to feel more comfortable with the dcoumented bottom-line the incoming and outgoing leaders seem to have agreed to, in October 2011 or some time earlier. In short, I believe a limbo between what He defines as negation (of old values) and affirmation (of new ones) is the most likely status for the coming years.

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Note

*) A Sina Weibo re-post by He on March 14 local time, concerning the changes to the criminal code passed by the “National People’s Congress” on March 14, was reprtedly censored some time later.

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Related

» Lacking Substance, China Post, March 25, 2012
» The original Deutsche Welle report (as republished on Wenxue City), Deutsche Welle, March 24, 2012
» Reform or Risk…, FOARP, March 14, 2012

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

From the Commenter Threads: China’s Options, as Exports Dwindle

King Tubby has drawn my attention to a Reuters article on a financial constellation within China which could spell a Chinese financial crisis, some three years after the West’s – and most of the world’s – financial crisis began.

If China had been asleep for centuries (as Napoleon Bonaparte allegedly once  put it), most of the English-language press seems to have been asleep for some three years, when it comes to this issue. Rather than being in awe for China’s simulus, they might have taken note of its financial sources back then. Victor Shih of Northwestern University actually pointed them out – to the international press in Beijing – in March 2010, and while the numbers may not have been easily available before, the press should have been full of questions anyway.

Even earlier, in February 2009, Huang Yasheng of the MIT told Nanfang Daily that while India’s investment only amounted to 50% of China’s, it still created economic growth that amounted to 80% of China’s. The issue is misallocation of capital – the state manipulating investment into channels where it either performs less well as it could elsewhere in the country, or even dumping money into white-elephant projects. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) might make better use of such investment, or loans, but are lacking the attention the state pays to state-owned juggernauts (or, more generally-speaking, .industrialists who are, for cousinhood or other forms or association, particularly close to the CCP.

But neither did  Chinese growth in past years spell as golden an age for the average Chinese people as the hype in our press seemed to suggest, nor will the future necessarily be as messy as is now predicted by a growing number of China experts.

From my comment, in reply to King Tubby’s:

While some of the aftermath of impending financial defaults within China (after all, the creditor-debtor relations are mostly a domestic affair) will be ugly and even dramatic (and it’s easy to excite the Chinese public, both willingly and unwillingly, isn’t it?), it still won’t spell comprehensive economic collapse. The real structural problem in my view is the one which Huang Yasheng and the very recent Reuters article describe: the misallocation of capital. That however is a malfunction China has lived with for decades, and will continue to live with. These have been seemingly golden decades – but never as golden for the average Chinese as our media kept suggesting. The future isn’t as bleak as they like to suggest now, either. The crux will be if the center, i. e. Beijing, will manage to turn the coastal provinces into investors, and consumers, in their domestic relationship with the hinterland which still has quite a potential to grow economically, as export keeps dwindling. I have my doubts about Beijing’s and their provincial fiefs’ ability to tap this potential for growth from within China – but it is an option, and could be a way out of the looming economic straits.

If they managed to do that, it could be a turn to a more sustainable pattern of growth than what we’ve seen so far.

Import substitution could be on the cards, too. There has been some public discussion in China about leaving the WTO more recently (leaving may be a prerequisite for the protectionism import substitution would require). The pressure that would stem from having to do your own R&D, rather than simply importing it, could help innovation. So, there is an underlying rationale underneath the “we-are-victims” talk here, too. Foreign bad, Chinese good is essential artwork for anything you wish to sell in a Chinese debate. But that doesn’t mean that a protectionist position in itself couldn’t make any sense.

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Related

» From another Discussion with King Tubby, January 28, 2011

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Law and Order: De-Hugging the Hoodies

Neither British prime minister David Cameron (Conservative Party) nor Taiwan’s president Ma Ying-jeou should be considered worldly innocent. But there is something they seem to have in common – being directly or indirectly elected officials, they seem to be unusually disconnected from the people of their countries. Ma’s confucianist platitudes and his lack of information when it came to farming this summer (and previous disasters), could cost him his re-election. Cameron is still at the beginning of his term, unless his coalition splits, or if he wants to turn to the country for other reasons.

But anyway – let’s talk about Cameron.

Cameron’s switch from “hugging a hoodie” to “all-out war” can’t be explained with the state of British society. The state of British society now isn’t really that much different from what it was prior to the days of rioting and looting earlier this month.

Talk that suggests restrictions on access to social media, and the existence of an “all-out war on gangs” suggests that there was a civil war going on, rather than the search for restoring law and order. More than that, it suggests that Cameron feels humiliated by the pictures of burning buildings and vehicles in English cities. For a while, many British citizens may share that feeling.

But then, they may remember the parliamentary expenses scandal. Those past failures within all political parties in parliament don’t bar top politicians from the right – and duty – to lead, to help rebuilding a “broken society”. But the British government needs to demobilize in terms of big – and hypocritical – words and token gestures, and back up announcements of “righting the wrongs” with substantial steps.

Leadership and authority don’t need to suffer from a more thoughtful approach. Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg – leader of the Liberal Democrats, asked a question which may not be smart, but much more useful than all of Cameron’s “answers”:

Nobody can credibly claim to know for sure, at this early stage, the precise reasons for the various acts of disorder, to have perfectly discerned the motives of the criminals on our streets.

We need to know who did what, and why they did it. We need to understand. I don’t mean ‘understand’ in the sense of being understanding, or offering even the hint of an excuse. I mean understand what happened, to get as much evidence as we can. Then we can respond, ruthlessly but thoughtfully.

That is why we are commissioning independent research into the riots. Of course we don’t need research to tell us that much of this was pure criminality, but the more we can learn the better.

Why did some areas and people explode and others not? What can we learn from those neighbourhoods and young people who remained peaceful? After all, it is worth remembering that the rioters were the exception, not the rule.

We need to know what kind of people the rioters were, and why they did it. That is also why we are looking into gang culture, so that we can combat it more effectively. In policy-making as in war, it is important to know your enemy.
Our policy response will be guided by our values of freedom, fairness and responsibility. It will also be based soundly on evidence, not anecdote or prejudice. Kneejerk reactions are not always wrong – but they usually are.
Just a good speech doesn’t make a prime minister. But too much stupid talk may do away with an incumbent. Before Cameron can control the hoodies, he will need to control  himself.
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Related
Cameron Softens Crime Image, Observer, July 9, 2006
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Updated / Related
» There’ll be a tsunami of political idiocy, Writing Baron, Aug 19, 2011
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Thursday, August 4, 2011

People’s Daily: a Light Dosage of Maoism against “Passive Corruption”

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1.  The People’s Daily article, Thursday, August 4, 2011

A spreading phenomenon of corruption will inevitably damage the (Communist) Party’s working style, and the existence of corruption will inevitably goad its power onto the road of evil. If corrupt ideas develop, they will turn the relationship between cadres and the masses from a fish-water relationship into an oil-water, if not into a fire-and-water relationship
(腐败现象蔓延,必定破坏党风清正;腐败文化存在,必定驱使“能力”走向歧途;腐败思想滋长,必会令干群“鱼水关系”变成“油水关系”甚至“水火关系”。今天的中国,要应对“四大危险”,必须坚决根治腐败),

writes People’s Daily.

All people who hold power may easily abuse it – this has been true through the ages. Under accusations of corruption, Mexico’s Party of Institutionalized Revolution, which ruled the country for more than seventy years, had to step down. Corruption allegations also lead to the Philippine military mutiny, the Thailand unrests, and the Tunisian coup d’etat. The defeat of the USSR’s Communist Party, the overnight changes in Eastern Europe, the changes in political power thoroughly warn us that black corruption can corrode a red-blooded body, too.
(“一切有权力的人都容易滥用权力,这是万古不易的一条经验”。执政70多年的墨西哥革命制度党一度被指为“贪污党”下台,“腐败政治”也接连引发菲律宾兵 变、泰国骚乱、突尼斯政变,人们坚信腐败是执政者大敌。苏共的政亡人息,东欧的一夜剧变,政权的更迭更深刻警醒我们,黑色腐败同样会对红色肌体产生极大腐 蚀。)

The People’s Daily editorial then quotes tradition, Mao Zedong (毛泽东), Deng Xiaoping, and Hu Jintao, the latter of whom it says had repeatedly warned that if there were things that could harm the party in times of peaceful development, corruption was a protruding one. Passive corruption urgently needed to be addressed. A position of political power wasn’t a position once and for all, and only if corruption was punished, a long period of political stability (or a lasting good order – 长治久安) could be secured.

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2.  Defining “Passive Corruption”

While passive corruption (消极腐败) is most commonly seen as taking bribery, in contrast to active corruption, or giving bribes, official Chinese articles frequently refer to passive corruption in a wider sense. It doesn’t merely refer to taking bribes, but to authorities and departments which put their own interest before that of the public by excessive buildings, overstaffing (which in turn increases the risk of active corruption), bureaucracy (官僚主义), by wasting public means and resources (铺张浪费), and cronyism in recruitment or factionalism (宗派主义). A Council Act drawing up the Convention made on the basis of Article K.3 (2)(c) of the Treaty on European Union, on the fight against corruption involving officials of the European Communities or officials of Member States of the European Union defines passive corruption as

the deliberate action of an official, who, directly or through an intermediary, requests or receives advantages of any kind whatsoever, for himself or for a third party, or accepts a promise of such an advantage, to act or refrain from acting in accordance with his duty or in the exercise of his functions in breach of his official duties

or, in a memorandum of understanding between the EU and Croatia,

Passive corruption is defined as the deliberate action of an official, who, directly or through an intermediary, requests or receives advantages of any kind whatsoever, for himself or for a third party, or accepts a promise of such an advantage, to act or refrain from acting in accordance with his duty or in the exercise of his functions in breach of his official duties in a way which damages or is likely to damage the European Union’s financial interests.

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3.  My Take on the Article

The editorial itself isn’t as dramatic as its eye-catching title – passive corruption is a mortal wound for political parties (消极腐败”是政党致命伤) – may suggest.

What appears to be rather exceptional in this editorial from the People’s Daily editorial department (评论部) is the referral to the ousting of once ruling parties abroad – it may double-function as a warning to officials, and as a hint for other readers that corruption is a world-wide chronical disease, as a white paper issued by the CCP in December 2010 put it, and nothing particularly CCP.

The ideal of a “fish-water relationship” between “cadres and masses” (干群“鱼水关系”), as referred to by People’s Daily on Thursday, was probably first stated by Mao Zedong – when defining warfare, and again in 1957:

Let me repeat. Correctly handling the contradictions among the people means following the mass line, which is consistently stressed by our Party. Party members should be good at consulting the masses in their work and in no circumstances should they alienate themselves from the masses. The relation between the Party and the masses is like that between fish and water. Without good relations between the Party and the masses, the socialist system cannot be established or, once established, be consolidated.
(“The Situation in the Summer of 1957″ (1957 年夏季形势), July 1957, Selected Works, as quoted by marxists.org.)
再说一遍,所谓正确处理人民内部矛盾问题,就是我党从来经常说的走群众路线的问题。共产党员要善于同群众商量办事,任何时候也不要离开群众。党群关系好比鱼水关系。如果党群关系搞不好,社会主义制度就不可能建成;社会主义制度建成了,也不可能巩固。 *)

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Note

*)  I have found no online source for the original Mao Zedong quote in Chinese which would look trustworthy enough to link to – if you can verify the Chinese wording, let me know.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Taiwan: Just another Day in the KMT Archives

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Special Investigation: Another Day in the KMT Archives

Special Investigation: Another Day in the KMT Archives

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Related

» Who’s Afraid of an Independent Commission against Corruption, July 2, 2011

» Detective Li, June 30, 2010

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Taiwan: Who’s Afraid of an Independent Commission against Corruption?

Giving their Respects: Lee Teng-hui arrives at TSU Fundraising Dinner, July 1, 2011

TSU Fundraising Dinner, July 1 (click picture)

How far would president Ma Ying-jeou and the ruling KMT go to win the legislative and presidential elections in January? The question seems to be hanging over the island – be it since the trial of Ma’s predecessor Chen Shui-bian, be it since last Thursday, when the only other  (surviving) previous president, Lee Teng-hui, was indicted. I’m not sure that I would have voted for Ma in 2008, if eligible, and I am  quite sure that I wouldn’t vote for him next year – but you might think of certain policies (not Chen’s trial or Lee’s indictment – I’m leaving these out for the moment, trying to think of them as mere judicial matters) as wrong, and still respect the politician himself.

What’s more, to devise an intelligible foreign policy that would best serve Taiwan’s national interest, given the pressure Taiwan is facing from China – and from China’s political accomplices (ASEAN, the European Union, and to quite a degree even the United States) – is a difficult task. To devise one that would really satisfy most of those who care about foreign affairs may actually be impossible.

No wonder that from the beginning, Ma focused on domestic policies, and within that area, on economic policies. To many voters, his approach must have come across as a refreshing contrast to his (DPP) predecessors excessive ideologisation of Taiwanese politics, where the correct naming of the postal office had – or that’s how it could appear -  become more important than the latest unemployment rates.

In terms of growth, the Ma administration’s achievements leave nothing to be desired. But satisfaction with its effect on most of the populace appears to be flagging. And much of the growth was generated by intensifying trade and investment relations with China – and that’s an uneasy relationship, when it comes to sovereignty issues. China’s ultimate goal is to “unite China”, and it thinks of Taiwan as its territory. Nanfang Shuo, who may count as a rather independent observer of Taiwanese politics (and certainly not a vitriolic commenter at that), had no friendly words for China-generated growth, either, in May this year.

A Global Views Survey Research Center (GVSRC) poll of June 20th suggests that compared to one month earlier, 40.8 per cent of the respondents trust Ma Ying-jeou (-1.2 per cent), while 39.6 per cent do not (-3.3 per cent). As both numbers have gone down, there seem to be more people than in May who can’t make up their mind.

34.3 per cent approve of Ma’s performance (+0.4 per cent), while 50.8 per cent (-3.5 per cent) disapprove. The support rate has been going up for Ma Ying-jeou (from 38.9 to 42.2 per cent), and down for his challenger Tsai Ing-wen (from 38.6 to 36.3 per cent). A United Daily News (UDN) poll in April had shown 37 per cent support for Tsai, and 36 per cent for Ma.

Numbers like these don’t spell doom for the incumbent. But they are surprisingly dull, given recent economic growth in Taiwan.

Trust in the country’s institutions – or the lack of it -, especially in the judiciary, seems to have inspired the president a year ago. However, when he introduced the idea of an anti-corruption commission on July 20 last year, to be working under the ministry of justice (MoJ), the KMT-leaning China Post, according to an Asia Times article, argued that such a commission would be a “toothless tiger”. Contrary to Hong Kong’s Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) or Singapore’s Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB), a Taiwanese commission couldn’t build on a “fear factor” in Taiwan’s government bodies, because parliament, i. e. the Legislative Yuan, was the real monitor of government practice. Partisanship would hinder effective action against corrupt members of the judiciary.

But if partisanship is the problem, the China Post should have worried much more about the KMT, than about the DPP. Bickering within the Legislative Yuan aside, the KMT had a (albeit narrow at times) majority there, even during the eight years of Chen Shui-bian‘s presidency. And reportedly, it made use of it by blocking DPP plans to build an anti-corruption commission with what might be translated as “specific” or “dedicated”  responsibilities (专责的廉政单位). I’m not really in a position to judge the sincerity in that DPP approach, but it is frequently forgotten that Taiwan’s bureaucracies had continued to be KMT-dominated, as demonstrated in a standoff between then minister of justice Chen Ding-nan (DPP) and the Ministry’s Investigation Bureau (MJIB), in 2000. Under these circumstances, it is easy to believe that the DPP had – and still has – a more genuine interest in a truly independent commission against corruption, than the KMT.

Did the KMT push Lee Teng-hui‘s indictment? Many Taiwanese – and foreigners – seem to believe that. I have my doubts. Many of those who belonged to Lee’s classical constituency in 1996 wouldn’t actually care if their president embezzled money, or if he didn’t. It is not unusual among Taiwanese people to shrug, worldly-wisely, and to say something like “let’s be realists”, and “as long as things in general are fine…”  (which is a pretty universal prespective in China, too). But that’s exactly why I believe Lee’s indictment will create more problems than opportunities for president Ma’s election campaign. Any “realist”, tolerant of corruption as he frequently is, will resent the idea that Lee – more often perceived to be a dignified 君子 or 閣下 than Chen Shui-bian, for example – is going to face trial, in his late eighties. If the “realists” don’t believe that the SID acted independently in Lee’s case, it could break Ma’s, rather than Lee’s neck. The “realists”  may not believe that Ma or his proxies respected the judiciary’s independence to the extent Ma claims they did.

In the end, public trust in the judiciary’s independence should be in the interest of the DPP and the KMT alike.

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Related
» Lee might Face Fresh Indictment, Focus Taiwan, July 2, 2011

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