Friday, August 04, 2006

Interesting letter about pan-green academics' calls for President Chen to step down

I was reading this letter in Taipei Times and liking it, and then I realized it was written by Michael Turton. For those of you who aren't following Taiwan politics, there was a failed pan-blue (KMT and PFP) attempt to recall President Chen. The said reasons for the recall were that some of Chen's family members, including his son-in-law were implicated in a corruption scandal.

Then, some pro-DPP (Chen's party) academics called for Chen to step down. They presented a petition with 20,000 names, which was viewed in Taiwan as news. I don't know how many petitions I've signed in America--petitions that attracted many more signatures than the academics could muster--and they never made the news. Interesting.

Michael calls these academics naive and explains why (indented material is quoted from letter):
While claiming that morality should be a concrete concept that pervades daily political life, Lin says: "However, in trying to ascertain how responsible Chen is for the scandals, we've become stuck in the quagmire of partisan politics." In essence, Lin argues that Chen should step down whether he is guilty or not.

Convicting people by rumor and social pressure is not ethics as it is generally practiced in democratic countries. In democratic countries, when the family of the chief executive runs afoul of the law, he doesn't resign. Neil Bush's numerous escapades have not made his brother US President George W. Bush the target of calls to resign, nor did Billy Carter's influence-peddling lead to calls for brother Jimmy to resign.

In developed democracies people are assumed to be responsible for their own actions; family members are not held accountable as that point of view is considered backward and unfair. We who think Chen should remain in office also have an ethical standard, one that refrains from crucifying people for the crimes of others. It's weird, but there it is.

Lin never addresses the underlying absurdity of "resigning to take responsibility." Taking responsibility means cleaning up the mess you made, not leaving the stink behind for others to swim in. Lin also fails to note that useless resignations are the bane of the Taiwanese government. It is routine for officials to resign to "take responsibility" and disappear from public view for a while -- meanwhile the practices go on and no meaningful change occurs.

Do Lin or any of his cohorts imagine that if Chen resigns, things will actually change for the better in Taiwan? The system of influence peddling and incestuous government-business relations will, if anything, worsen and only confirm that the least palatable components of the political order are capable of bringing down the president.

Lin calls for dialogue, but does not seem to realize that if Chen steps down it will demonstrate that partisan rhetoric, not dialogue, is effective in achieving the goals of political parties in Taiwan. He asks that institutions be reformed, but thinks that damaging the presidency and a party committed to institutional and constitutional reform is a good way to do that.

It should also be noted that getting rid of Chen has been a pan-blue goal from the first day of his presidency -- it seems Lin has forgotten that when Chen killed the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant back in the early days of his administration, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators threatened to impeach him. The assaults on Chen are part of a larger and long-term pan-blue strategy to destabilize the government and denigrate self-rule. The movement did not suddenly spring into being overnight when the Chen Che-nan (陳哲男) scandal broke.

Going back further, the pan-blue assault on the president dates to the struggles between conservative mainlander Hau Pei-tsun (郝柏村) and independence supporter Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) over whether Taiwan should have a presidential or parliamentary system. This was essentially a debate that masked a struggle for control of the government between the mainlander-run power structure and the emerging democratic forces. We are still living in that struggle, and a Chen resignation would have a profound impact on the institutional development of the government. Lin simply ignores all this history.
I know this must be an extremely difficult situation for DPP politicians. My only reference point is the Clinton impeachment attempt of the late nineties. I don't know what would have happened if Clinton had stepped down and allowed Gore early-on to rise from his shadow. But, Clinton witheld the storm and the Republicans have been dominent ever since. Would Gore have been in a better position to win the 2000 presidential elections if Clinton had bowed out in a strategic way? I sincerely do not know the answer to this. Does everyone agree that Annette Lu would be incapable of taking the reins of power?


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