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Scandals Are a Test of Democracy
Paul Lin
7/3/2006

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`The scandal is both a test of Taiwan's democratic system and a milestone in the nation's democracy.'

The insider trading case involving President Chen Shui-bian's son-in-law Chao Chien-ming is surrounded by sensational rumors. The final verdict, however, will be issued by the courts. Just a cursory look at those facts that can already be confirmed, however, is enough to make us all sigh.

The insider-trading scandal has inflicted serious damage on the Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) image. But if we can step away from the blue-green antagonism and instead look at the overall situation, the scandal is both a test of Taiwan's democratic system and a milestone in the nation's democracy.

In addition to the international mouthpieces of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Taiwan's pan-blue politicians have been most keen to sensationalize the scandal.

They would do well to remember that in the days of the Chinese Nationalist Party regime under former presidents Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang Ching-kuo, no one dared touch upon the issues involving the "Princeling Party."

The worst that could happen to personnel in those days was a demotion. KMT Legislator Chiu Yi was scheduled to deliver a speech in Beijing to boast his self-proclaimed heroic ability to reveal government corruption scandals. But his speech was blocked by China and he could only suffer the embarrassment and return to Taiwan. One wonders why Chiu did not have the guts to hold a press conference to talk about China's suppression of free speech.

Because of a CCP internal power struggle, Shanghai real estate tycoon Zhou Zhengyi was detained on May 26, 2003 amid a crackdown against businessmen accused of using bribery and influence peddling to profit from China's economic reforms.

Zhou was released from prison last week after serving a three-year sentence for fraud and stock manipulation. The news of his release, however, was blocked, Zhou has disappeared, and no one knows were to reach him.

But Zhou is no innocent. Because Zhou is connected to CCP politburo member and Shanghai Party Chief Chen Liangyu and is a good friend of Jiang Mianheng), son of former Chinese president Jiang Zemin, Zheng Enchong, an attorney representing Shanghai City against Zhou, has been arrested on charges of illegally obtaining state secrets. If this was happening in Taiwan, could Zheng have ended up like this?

Comparing Zheng's sticky end with Chiu's heroic image, we see that anyone revealing corruption in China is sent to prison, and this only serves to highlight the preciousness of Taiwan's democracy. It is also the main reason why Taiwan must not unify with China.

This is not to say, however, that the scandals in Taiwan are acceptable or that the democratic system is not flawed. The rule of law is required in order to guarantee a healthy democratic system.

First, judging from the information available, Chao almost certainly was involved in insider-trading and other illegal activities. All these things cross legal and moral boundaries. Nevertheless, certain people have been talking irresponsibly and spreading rumors, and this will compromise judicial independence.

Second, Chao's family members and even the first family have been implicated in the insider-trading scandal, and this is proof of the vitality of Taiwan's democratic system. If, however, all scandals are driven by one-party or self-centered partisan wrangling, then it is a distortion of the meaning of democracy. Using double standards when revealing scandals or using scandals to divert public attention from one's own faults is not to the benefit of Taiwan's democracy, and it may even cause Taiwan to return to the old authoritarian political system.

Third, how should the DPP officials deal with recent scandals? Whether they treat the scandals from a personal, party or national perspective will be a serious test of their own democratic maturity. Green-camp supporters should also ask: who can truly help the DPP step out from the shadow of this scandal?

Finally, the first family must face up to its role in the current problems and rely on sincerity to restore its prestige and credibility. It must respond to public suspicion with honesty.

Only this way will the image of the first family and, more importantly, Taiwan's democracy be safeguarded.

Paul Lin is a political commentator based in New York.

Translated by Lin Ya-ti

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