Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The KMT and DPP: In a Race to the Bottom

The KMT and DPP: In a Race to the Bottom
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
March 3, 2009

Late last year, in response to calls from the Ma administration, the KMT Provisional Plenary Committee substantially tightened the party's Anti-Corruption Provisions. For a moment it appeared as if it was committed to genuine transformation. But lo and behold, the KMT Central Committee discreetly created an escape clause. It announced that the provision "A candidate found guilty in the first instance will be denied nomination" would not be made retroactive. For all intents and purposes, it surrendered to the forces of corruption.

The KMT is big and powerful. Its progress on the road to reform has always been two steps forward, one step back, shilly-shallying all the way, betraying a lack of determination and perseverance. That is why voters spurned it in 2000 and why it wound up in the political wilderness for eight years. Now that it has finally regained political power, it ought to resolve to do better. It ought to let people know it has reformed. Yet the moment it runs up against anti-reformist forces, it caves in. Is this what the KMT means when it trumpets "complete government, complete responsibility?" The KMT says it relaxed the requirements for nomination of candidates because it feared a backlash from local officials. But if the KMT's much trumpeted reform turns to mush, isn't it afraid of backlash from voters?

The KMT has been repeatedly revising its eligibility standards, touching a sore spot within the party. When Ma Ying-jeou was party chairman he tightened the anti-corruption provisions to read, "A candidate who has been indicted will be denied nomination." But when he found himself mired in a major political crisis due to the Discretionary Fund case, the KMT recut the party constitution to fit him, drastically relaxing the requirement to read, "A candidate found guilty in the third instance will be denied nomination." This was done to ensure that Ma would remain eligible to run for president. As a result, the KMT Provisional Plenary Committee changed the provision back to "A candidate found guilty in the first instance will be denied nomination" from "A candidate found guilty in the third instance will be denied nomination." As we can see, determining the "right" standards for candidate nomination is no simple matter.

Can Ma Ying-jeou's Discretionary Fund case be used as an excuse to open the floodgates for the nomination process? Of course not. What the public finds most objectionable about the KMT is the caliber of its local officials, and its "black gold" elements manipulating local construction projects. At the county magistrates, city mayors, and county councilors level, criminal triads often join forces with politicians and industrialists, and engage in flagrantly lawless behavior, taking unfair advantage of local opportunities. This "seige mentality" on the part of local KMT officials is one of the main reasons for the serious gap between the north and south. The KMT has a clear advantage at the central government level, in the Presidential Office, the Executive Yuan, and the Legislative Yuan. It has a perfect opportunity to push for reform. How can it casually retreat and compromise?

True, if the threshold is set too high, some officials may leave the party and run as independents, upsetting the election scenario. But will relaxing eligibility requirements transform these indicted officials into public heroes who command the support of the electorate? That underestimates the intelligence of the voters. Hsu Tsai-li in Keelung and Wu Chun-li in Taitung were both under indictment. Their nominations were rammed through nevertheless. Their subsequent election, conviction, and sentencing severely undermined the KMT's image. The public remembers. Doesn't anyone in the KMT Central Committee know that?

Consider Diane Lee's dual nationality. The KMT condoned her behavior and shielded her. When the truth came out, she quit the party, letting the KMT take the heat, and leaving a dark shadow in the hearts of Da-an District voters. Can the KMT's image withstand such repeated traumas?

The KMT is not alone. It is not the only party eager to debase itself. When it comes to degeneracy, the DPP takes a back seat to no one. The DPP Pary Constitution originally specified that "An official who has been indicted will be stripped of authority." But Legislators Kao Chi-peng, Hsu Ling, and Tsai Huang-lang were all indicted or convicted of criminal wrongdoing. Yet the three of them are still DPP Legislators At Large. The DPP Central Evaluation Committee acts as if nothing is wrong. Even worse, last July the DPP revised its "Articles for Clean Government." It changed "An official who has been indicted will be stripped of authority" to "An official who has been convicted in the first instance will be stripped of authority. An official who has been convicted in the second instance will be expelled." The purpose was to provide Chen Shui-bian with an escape clause, and to help Kao Chi-peng and his ilk skate by. So where is the DPP's commitment to reform and rehabilitation?

DPP Chairman Tsai Ing-wen ridiculed the KMT's attempt to rationalize its grandfather clause. She said if the KMT repeatedly compromised its principles, it would "regress to an unspeakable state." But look at the DPP's revisions to its party constitution last year. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. The DPP "regressed to an unspeakable state" long ago. KMT and DPP promises to end corruption have already been reduced to a race to the bottom.

The two major parties' myopic conduct in recent years has changed the face of Taiwan's democracy beyond recognition. Chen Shui-bian's lip service to "transitional justice" and "the highest possible ethical standards" merely showed how far he could degenerate in eight years. and how swiftly democracy and justice could vanish in the wind. The KMT and DPP are competing to see how far they can lower their anti-corruption standards. They are showing how easy it is for the ruling and opposition parties to jettison their commitment to reform. They are providing the public with front row seats to their race to the bottom.

2009.03.03 03:38 am










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