Acquittal improves Ma’s chances for presidency

The China Post

The Taipei District Court yesterday cleared former Taipei mayor Ma Ying-jeou, the main opposition Kuomintang’s (KMT) presidential candidate, of corruption charges. Prices on the local stock market rose sharply on the news, reflecting the widespread support Ma enjoys as a political figure. Ma, a former mayor of Taipei, was charged in February on suspicion of misappropriating about NT$11.176 million (US$339,000) from a monthly “mayoral special allowance” for about five years. In July, Taiwan prosecutors pressed additional charges, including breach of trust. Ma stepped down as KMT chairman following the indictment. This series of events took place after President Chen Shui-bian’s family and aides were involved in a spate of corruption scandals. Above all, President Chen’s son-in-law, Chao Chien-ming, was taken into custody on May 24, 2006 by the Taipei District Court on charges of insider trading, but was later released on bail. Chao subsequently lost his job as an orthopedist at the reputable National Taiwan University Hospital. On July 10, 2006, Chao was officially charged with insider trading, and the prosecutors sought a prison term of eight years for him. On Nov. 3, 2006, the Taipei District Attorney indicted first lady Wu Shu-chen on charges of falsifying records of expenditures from the president’s national security account. During the past few months, however, Wu has persistently defied subpoenas from the court for her to stand trial.The district court listed President Chen as a “potential defendant” in the same corruption case, but he enjoys presidential immunity, so he won’t have to stand trial until he leaves office.

Ma’s acquittal by the district court does not mean he is safe from imprisonment. There are reports that say that the prosecutor who indicted him plans to appeal the case. However, the verdict yesterday has boosted the morale of the opposition and dealt the ruling party a blow.

Frank Hsieh, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) candidate in next year’s presidential election, looked grim when reporters asked him what he thought about the court verdict. Hsieh, currently on a visit in the United States, refused to comment on the news with the excuse that he is now abroad. Hsieh himself has been involved in a large number of cases of corruption. In contrast to Ma’s case, the judiciary has been dealing with Hsieh’s cases slowly. This, and the fact that the first lady has time and again refused to speak in court for the trial of her case, is putting the fairness of Taiwan’s judiciary to the test. The pan-blue camp must not be carried away by this victory. Chen Shui-bian is known as a clever politician who has devoted his life to seeking and securing power by hook or by crook. Although his term as president will end next May and he won’t be able to run for re-election in accordance with the Republic of China Constitution, he will make sure that his successor is someone who can protect him after he leaves office.

Ma could still be convicted as the case is tried in a higher court. Also, the ruling DPP will certainly use all the methods it can find to influence the judiciary. The KMT must be united if it wants to win the election next March. If the party loses this battle, the party may head for disintegration and destruction.