Ah-Bian Does Not Measure Up to Roh Moo-hyun
China Post editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
May 22, 2009
Former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, amidst suspicions of bribery, lept off a cliff and committed suicide. He came from a poor family. He studied hard to pass the bar exams. He became a human rights lawyer and champion of clean government. His job performance while in power was mediocre. It went from good to bad. After he stepped down corruption scandals erupted. Because his wife and children demanded bribes from businessmen while he was in office, they became subjects of investigation. He says he was unaware that his family members extorted bribes. But he publicly said he could not face the public. He deeply regretted disappointing his fellow countrymen, and eventually chose suicide.
Roh Moo-hyun and Chen Shui-bian are similar in so many ways, making it difficult not to make comparisons. But no matter how similar their stories may be, one cannot deduce from Roh Moo-hyun's corruption whether Chen Shui-bian was also guilty of corruption.
Criminal cases must be turned over to the trial courts for judgment. The behavior of Chen Shui-bian and his family in the wake of the scandals have inevitably led the public to arrive at certain conclusions about whether Chen Shui-bian is guilty of corruption. Nevertheless we insist on upholding the principle of the presumption of innocence. We respect the judgment of the courts, and refuse to make rash judgments.
But we cannot deny that Roh Moo-hyun's feelings of remorse and decision to commit suicide, have held up a mirror to our own former head of state and his attitude while confronting his own corruption scandals.
We feel regret and sadness over Roh Moo-hyun' decision to end his own life. We would never encourage anyone to follow his example. But we must point out that Roh Moo-hyun's suicide has nothing to do with the administration of justice. It was purely a political and moral gesture. The public has long looked forward to the emergence of this sort of political ethics on Taiwan, but it has never made an appearance, leaving the public deeply disappointed.
President Chen Shui-bian left office in August of last year. Because he was unable to hide his overseas money-laundering, he confessed to committing illegal acts, and offered a public apology. This led to brief bout of criticism by the Green Camp. But the scope of the scandal continued to expand. The amount of money involved was appalling, and left Roh Moo-hyun far behind. Although the scandal became worse and worse, Chen Shui-bian's expression of remorse vanished like a puff of smoke. He maintained repeatedly he was innocent, and a victim of political persecution. Chen Shui-bian and Roh Moo-hyun were indeed quite different.
The Democratic Progressive Party organized a May 17 protest march. It took to the streets to denounce Ma Ying-jeou. It exercised the right of opposition parties to express dissent. What the public on Taiwan noted with a cold eye however, was the complete absence of DPP criticism of Chen Shui-bian's money-laundering scandal. On the contrary, Chairman Tsai Ing-wen accused the ruling KMT of violating Chen Shui-bian's human rights, in order to humiliate the Democratic Progressive Party. Whether the court's taking of Chen Shui-bian into custody constitutes an infringement of human rights is a serious issue that merits scrutiny. But whether Chen Shui-bian was taken into custody on orders from the ruling administration is a different matter entirely.
The evidence of Chen administration money-laundering is overwhelming. He established a vast number of overseas accounts. The amount of wealth he accumulated during his eight years in power is no secret. No evidence exists that ruling KMT officials have engaged in political persecution. Green Camp representatives accuse the ruling KMT of manipulating the judiciary and engaging in political persecution. They make unfounded accusations, but offer no evidence. As to how Ah-Bian, Ah-Cheng, and their children moved such vast sums of "campaign contributions" overseas, they remain silent. Contrast the two, and one is bound to find their allegations of political persecution and human rights violations utterly unconvincing.
Suppose the situation were reversed. Suppose Ma Ying-jeou had acquired vast sums of campaign contributions, or set up overseas accounts containing vast sums of money. Would the Green Camp criticize such abuses? Whenever the Green Camp utters the words "clean government," its political and moral double standards have opened it up to ridicule. The Presbyterian Church's accusation that the Democratic Progressive Party has failed to reflect upon Chen Shui-bian's mistakes is not without reason.
What about Chen Shui-bian himself? He has cited his illness, his medical treatment, and written books to accuse the courts of political persecution. His most recent tactic has been to fire his defense counsel, and refuse to talk with the public defender. This of course is his right as a criminal defendant. But isn't his strategy of forcing a showdown with the courts unbecoming of an attorney at law and an officer of the court, not to mention a former head of state? Chen Shui-bian may not act as if he doesn't care. But anyone in the know, must have some feelings about the matter.
A former head of state must face justice as a result of his money scandals. Instead he has given up his rights of as the accused to a legal defense. He has done so in defiance of common sense, for the sake of political posturing. Is he intentionally attempting to create enmity between himself and the court? Has he truly been wronged and helpless to seek legal redress? Or is he all too aware of his own guilt and imminent conviction, and therefore establishing a preemptive claim to political persecution? Has he completely lost his political and moral compass? Does he really expect the world to believe he is fighting for justice and the lofty ideal of human rights? How much political legitimacy does he still have? How many people will actually believe him?
No matter what attitude Chen Shui-bian assumes as he faces justice, the court's ruling, his guilt or innocence, his sentence light or heavy, will be subject to close scrutiny by the public, in accordance with the rule of law.
Preventing the abuse of power by political leaders attempting to enrich themselves and undermine the body politic by punishing them after they commit a crime is hardly the ideal solution. The ideal solution is to increase accountability by forcing politicians to demonstrate political integrity and abide by moral standards, by demanding that the ruling and opposition parties share responsibility. Chen Shui-bian does not measure up to Roh Moo-hyun. Let's hope that does not mean that Taiwan does not measure up to South Korea!