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Taiwan: Hopes in democracy in the midst of corruption scandal

In the last two weeks, the Taiwan mainstream media has been occupied with the corruption scandal of the former president, Chen Shiu-Bian. According to the news report, a Swiss bank has spotted a large sum of suspected money (up to a billion Taiwan yuan) transfered from Taiwan to Switzerland and reported the case to Taiwan government. Eventually, it was disclosed that the bank accounts belong to Chen Shiu Bian's family members. On Aug 16, Chen and his wife admitted the existence of the bank accounts and withdrew from the DPP (Democratic Progressive Party).

As Taiwan is a pioneer in the development of democracy among Chinese societies. In order to understand the issue's context and its political implications in different communities, GV-related bloggers from Taiwan, China and Hong Kong had a virtual meeting on Aug 22. There were around 20 attendants and 8 active participants involved in the cross-border dialogue.

In the meeting, GV-blogger Portnoy said that he could not trust the mainstream media report and there were no hard evident presented to the public yet. According to their previous experience, “news” can in fact become “rumors”. Instead of joining the accusation, he prefers to keep a cool head and wait for the investigation.

OJ shared Portnoy's feelings:

我想批判阿扁,因為他毀棄了過去選民對他的信賴。可是我也想批評媒體,因為媒體的報導如罪人拿石頭砸犯姦淫的婦女。可是我發現我的批判被困住了。因為如果我說阿扁很壞,媒體可能就會說我說得好。但如果我說媒體很壞,就會被誤會成我在幫阿扁找台階下。怎麼會是這樣?似乎是,只問立場時,就容不下一點人性空間?

I really want to criticize Ah Bian, because he has destroyed the trust from his voters. However, I also want to criticize the media, because they act like a criminal stoning a corrupted woman. However, I find that i am trapped by my critical stance. If I said Bian is bad, the media would say it is well said. And if I said the media is bad, people would think that I am help Bian to find a way out. If we only talk about standpoint, there is no space for being humane…”

However, there are still a number of heated comments in the blogosphere.

As Chen Shui-bian was once honored as the “son of Taiwan”, AboutSophia criticized that he is the “shame of Taiwan”:

沒看過一個男人這麼沒有擔當的, 把自己的A錢罪行, 推給一個他明知即使被判了刑, 台灣人民也會可憐她的他的太太。這個男人我根本不想稱他為前總統, 他配嗎?

I have never seen such a irresponsible man, pushing all his corruption sin to his wife, someone that people will feel pity. I don't even want to call him as former president, he doesn't deserve that.

However, as Portnoy has pointed out, many pro-Green (pro-DPP) bloggers are still more angry at KMT than Chen because they believe that KMT is more corrupted and has never received proper trial. Redorganic is among one of Chen's sympathizers:

對於阿扁的海外帳戶問題,我個人雖然不能原諒,但也是很同情的。

現在有證據說阿扁這筆錢是貪污來的嗎?沒有,完全沒有,大家不要被統媒的明示暗示所誤導了。

我從一些地方瞭解到這件事情的來龍去脈,扁嫂雖然貴為第一夫人,但在很多地方,還是非常的平民。

在2006年的紅衫軍之亂後,這麼大的危機,仍有平民特質的扁嫂,就做出了我們一般平民都會做的事情,就是把錢匯出台灣。

這樣的舉動,泛藍政治人物沒有嗎?泛藍群眾沒有嗎?這就是台灣受中國威脅,不是一個正常國家造成的。所有人民都沒有安全感。

Although I can't forgive Ah Bian's overseas account, but I am still in sympathy.
Is there any proof that the money is from corrupted sources? No, definitely not. So let's not be misled by the Pro-blue media.
I have heard from sources about the issue. Although Ah Bian's wife is the first lady, she is just a layman.
After the red army demonstration in 2006, facing such crisis, Ah Bian's wife, with her layman's attribution, made a layman decision by transferring the money overseas.
Haven't the Pan Blue politicians done so? Haven't the pan blue public done so? This is a result of the China threat, everyone doesn't feel safe.

Not everyone would accept such kind of excuse. Sitai from my1510 was outraged by Chen's response and believed the case is “the shame of democracy” (ESWN's translation):

I was reminded about of a popular saying on the mainland several years ago: “One can be shameless, but one can't be shameless to this extent!”

During the development of democracy in Taiwan, there were some signs of chaos. We cannot deny the greatness and exemplary of the progress of democracy in Taiwan on account of that, and we cannot deny the significance of democracy for our nation. Conversely, we cannot withhold the criticism of these chaotic signs just because Taiwan carries the aura of democracy on its head, nor must we regard these chaotic signs as the essential or necessary consequences of democracy.

Instead of criticizing the politicians, La Pensée Sauvage points out that people in Taiwan should really reflect on what went wrong:

不要再問:他們(阿扁一家)怎麼可以這樣那樣~

要問:為什麼他們可以這樣那樣~

或問:我們為什麼會讓他們這樣那樣???

Don't ask: How can they (Bian's family) do that?
We need to ask: Why they can act like that.
Or ask: Why we let they to do that???

The situation in Taiwan is also compared to the Philippines, the present president, Ma Ying-jeou actually compared Chen Shui bian with Marcos. Mong reminded us during the discussion that Marcos’ swiss accounts were discovered in 1986, however, the money has not yet been returned to the Philippines. Portnoy agreed that Taiwan has been suffering for many bad feedbacks of not-mature-enough democracy. One drawback is the failure in passing the “Sunshine Bill” which requires civil servants to disclose their sources of income.

Independent media coolloud reports on a civic action calling for the implementation of sunshine bill. The spokesperson said that the issue is not just a matter of morality but related with the political system.

In Hong Kong and China, a cultural critics, Leung Man-tao has written an article “The Enlightening Lesson from Teacher Chen Shui-bian” (ESWN translation) which was widely circulated in the Internet. Leung believes that Chen's corruption can break the “Love Taiwan” partisan spell. However, most of the Taiwanese bloggers in the meeting don't agree. Both Portnoy and Anotherwork agreed that what they have learned is not to trust politicians.

Apart from Leung's piece, some bloggers echo the mainstream newspapers editorial that Hong Kong's judicial independence and anti-corruption effort are better foundation for democracy system when compared with Taiwan model. A million why actually feels proud of Chief Executive, Donald Tsang:

反觀香港特首曾蔭權,雖然無能,一無是處,但是,我肯定曾蔭權不會和陳水扁一樣貪贓枉法,洗黑錢,這一點係值得我地香港人感到驕傲嘅。

Looking back in Hong Kong, even Donald Tsang is so incapable, am sure that he won't do such thing as money laundry. We should be proud of this.

However, some bloggers also pointed out that government and corporate collusion, such as in the form of delay interest, has never been put on trial because we don't have democracy.

As for mainland China, there are some very negative remarks that put democracy in doubt. Shaofeng concludes that democracy only provide thugs an opportunity to enjoy a glory time:

我来了~
有些不和事宜的民主
也就是给流氓提供了一个合法的空间
一个个政党一生就是为了政治而活着
事实上民生已经成了永不破灭的谎言

Here I am,
Democracy is far from Harmony,
It gives thugs a legal space,
Political parties live for politics
And people's livelihood becomes eternal lie.

Even though Jin Jianzhong feels that Taiwan democracy is not mature enough, but the corruption investigation is still a breakthrough among Chinese society:

台湾社会的进步显而易见,要知道,嘉庆皇帝能够清除和绅,却没有胆量也不可能清算乾隆,而这一点岛内民众无疑是开创了先例。

Taiwan society is obviously progressive. As we know, Emperor Jia Qing could eradicate He Shen (a corrupted official in Ching Dynasty), he wouldn't dare to investigate Qin Long (His father). People in the island has really made a history.

Liu Xiaoyuan disagreed that Chen's corruption is a failure of democracy:

我以为,能把腐败”总统”拉下马的民主政治,这恰恰是一个好制度。

试想一下,这样的事如是出现在专制国家,由于是一党执政,谁会去揭一个已经退下位的前最高领导人的经济问题?如果不是民主制度,保障了新闻自由,媒体敢去曝光前总统的经济问题吗?如果不是实行了民主制度,确立了三权分立的政体,司法机关敢去追究前总统的法律责任吗?

把陈水扁送上”总统”宝座的是民主政治,把陈水扁拉下马投进监狱的也会是民主政治。

I think the democratic system has successfully brought down the corrupted “president”.
If such thing happens in authoritarian state with one party domination, who would dare to investigate a former leader? If we don't have the democratic system to ensure freedom of press, would the media be dare to expose the problem? If there is no democratic system to ensure administrative, legal and legislative independence, would the judiciary be dare to bring the former president on trial?
Democracy has elected Chen as the “President”, it will also bring Chen into jail.

Thousand years ago has similar revelation with our Taiwanese blogger: trust the system, not the people.

权力导致腐败,绝对的权力导致绝对的腐败。此言综观人类历史,果然屡屡应验。

由此可见,人类社会的亘古主题就是权力的分配和运行机制,这个问题解决绝不可靠人,而必须靠机制来约束,防止权力天然的腐蚀力和人天然的堕落可能。

Power leads to corruption, absolute power leads to absolute corruption. Looking back in human history, this is always true.
A mechanism for distribution of power has been a major thesis in human society, we can't depend on human being for solving the problem, we need a good system to prevent the natural corruption tendency of power and human being.

Special thanks to Portnoy, PipperL, Jacky Peng, Anothwork, Mong, Ancorena, Chong (and I-fan via e-mail) for all your active participation and for providing the blog links for this post.

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  • knights

    It’s still no excuse to compare Democrat against one-party ruling countries!

    Chen Shui Fang (as in vampire Fang) sucked the hell of blood out of you Chen Shui Bian supporters, that’s why you are delusional enough to write this article?!

  • ken

    Many KMT supporters believe Chen is guilty. If that is the case, shouldn’t the KMT supporters be even more concern about how to prevent current or future presidents from the same corruptions? Currently Pres. Ma is acting like a dictator. Is Ma going to be better? Is the whole system flaw?

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