Democracy and The Rule of Law, From Tranquility to Anxiety
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
November 21, 2010
Judgments have been rendered in some of the Chen family corruption cases. On November 11, 2008, Chen Shui-bian was taken into custody, On November 11, 2010, a judgment was rendered in the Chen Shui-bian corruption case. At first, no one knew when the Chen corruption case would reach a resolution. They always assumed it would evolve as Chen Shui-bian described, "stalled between the second and third instance trials." The public was once filled with anxiety and anger. Now, only two years later, the gavel has come down in the third instance trial. Judgments have now been rendered in the trial of the century.
Anxiety and suspicion are the primary emotions felt on Taiwan. People feel anxiety because they cannot endure the waiting. People feel suspicion because they cannot trust the system. The public on Taiwan is fickle. But given the record of the Chen corruption case, democracy may require a little more patience and calm.
Two years ago, Chen Shui-bian was taken into custody for the very first time. No one knew how the case would evolve. Under Chen Tsung-ming, the Special Investigative Unit remained hamstrung. Huang Fan-yen fled the country. Efforts to recover embezzled funds from Switzerland ran into a myriad of obstacles. Chou Chan-chun released suspects without bail. All this aroused public suspicion and anger towards the justice system. But despite public controversy and setbacks, judgments were finally rendered in at least some of the Chen corruption cases. They have at least, not been too far off the mark. They have at least, not deviated too much from the public's perception of the law and justice.
Two years have passed. For the public, the experience has been long and difficult. But as far as the justice system is concerned, two years to reach a third instance judgment is considered swift. It is the amount of time necessary to undergo all the required steps. During this period, many people directed their anxiety and suspicion at President Ma Ying-jeou. They concluded that his "weakness" and "lack of drive" contributed to a watch and wait attitude among justice system officials. But suppose Ma Ying-jeou had intervened in the case while it was still in the courts? Suppose he had issued directions to any entities or officials within the justice system? Not only would he immediately have been accused of "political interference in the administration of justice," the credibility of the justice system would have been destroyed. The judgment rendered in the Chen corruption case could not have be accepted as calmly as it has been today.
After two years of investigations and trials, the once almighty Chen Shui-bian has been forced to bow before the law. The once glib DPP has been rendered speechless. Looking back over the past two years, we see that progress toward democracy and the rule of law has not been easy on Taiwan. Nevertheless it has been made. The road to democracy and the rule of law has not been as smooth as we once imagined. But it may also be reached right before our eyes.
The sublimation of democracy sometimes occurs in silence and darkness. Only a few months ago, the DPP denounced ECFA, accusing the Ma administration of bringing ruination and humiliation upon the nation. Now it has fallen silent. In the end, time will tell. What are such changes but forward steps on the rugged road toward democracy? Consider the water spinach controversy. It was initially spun as a major scandal. But after a few days of clarification, it turned out to be mere political farce. Chou Chan-chun is a judge with a clear-cut political stance. He provided society with a valuable object lesson. Chou Chan-chun twisted the Chen corruption case according to his whims. But he inadvertently proved that "The courts are not operated by the KMT." Consider such controversial officials such as Chen Tsung-ming and Yeh Sheng-mao, who were finally purged from the justice system, thereby ensuring its independence and integrity. If, as some advocated, Ma Ying-jeou had forced them to step down as soon as possible, we would be looking at a completely different picture. Looking back at the situation today, it was better to allow the system time to operate. The president must never intervene in the administration of justice.
Consider also the Red Shirt Army of four years ago. A red tide consisting of one million Red Shirt Army supporters swarmed onto Ketegelan Boulevard, laying seige to the city. In the end, they left peacefully. Chen Shui-bian remained ensconced in his official residence, coldly mocking them. On the surface, the Red Shirt Army retreated in defeat. On the surface, Chen Shui-bian consolidated his power and his position. But a mere year and a half later, the legislative elections and presidential elections revealed the will of the people. They forced the DPP government to step down, and Chen Shui-bian to prostrate himself before the law. Had the Red Shirt Army stormed the presidential palace, they would have undermined the 2008 presidential election, The current judgment in the Chen corruption case would have been compromised. Another group of people might storm the presidential palace in the future. Had that been the case, the Red Shirt Army on Taiwan would have been no different than the Red Shirt Army in Thailand.
As we all know, democracy is not an efficient system. Its wheels grind slowly. But it is able to strike a balance between respecting the will of the people and maintaining justice. Politicians on Taiwan have used democracy as an aphrodisiac. Too many expectations of democracy have led to excessive anxiety and suspicion about democracy. The Chen corruption case has undergone twists and turns. As the public looks back at these years of change, it may be able to observe the development of democracy and the rule of law with greater equanimity. A democracy tempered by the flames of anxiety, will hopefully be more robust and enduring.