Chen verdict is opportunity for Ma, KMT

By William Fang, Special to The China Post

That the Taipei District Court acquitted former President Chen Shui-bian and his wife of corruption charges for accepting NT$610 million from two financial holding companies has outraged the whole nation. The editorial of a major local newspaper published on Nov. 6 derided the act as tantamount to writing a “blank check of corruption” for Chen.

While most of the leaders of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), of which Chen once served as its chairman, chose to maintain a low profile in the controversy, the legislative caucus of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) did not hesitate to pan the court for undermining the people’s trust in the judiciary and urged passage of a law to create an exit mechanism for judges unfit for the job.

Huang Chao-shun, the KMT candidate for the mayor of the city of Kaohsiung in elections for five special municipalities to be held at the end of this month, has launched a voters’ drive to call for the establishment of such an exit device. At the same time, the KMT center has also decided to add a slogan of “firmly supporting the judicial reform and opposing corruption” to its “Walk for Taipei” parade scheduled for Nov. 21.

What’s most outrageous about the district court was not the verdict per se but the eerie logic by which it arrived at its judgment. In their verdict the three judges took the liberty of interpreting the Constitution as giving the president little powers in handling state affairs, asserting that when he issued orders in the merging of financial holding companies it was merely an act of overstepping the bounds of his duties and powers and, therefore, not a crime, and the money he took should be considered “political donations,” not “bribes.” In doing so, the judges not only violated the spirit of the Constitution but also ignored judicial precedents as well as common sense in Taiwan society that the president is the most powerful person in the country.

Earlier, many “pan-green” supporters were worried about the possibility that Chen might be released from detention to stir trouble for the DPP under the moderate leadership of Tsai Ing-wen in the current election campaign. It turned out that Chen was once again denied release on bail by the court.

But, the latest court verdict declaring the Chens innocent of corruption dropped another bombshell in Taiwan politics. The general consensus is that the perceived injustice of the judicial move could influence non-partisan voters when they are playing an increasingly decisive role in two close races in the north as the election time is drawing near.

This incomprehensible judgment may also give tepid KMT supporters something to get indignant and excited about, which in turn will likely motivate them to come out to vote in the yearend elections. However, this is not all good news for Ma and his colleagues. They must make sure that their maneuvering does not become counterproductive either by making Ma and the KMT take the blame for a lack of the progress of judicial reform or by making the DPP more united to pull itself through a crisis.