Japan's Political Fastidiousness and Taiwan's Moral Indifference
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
October 24, 2014
Executive Summary: Should Taiwan adopt laws as harsh as Japan's? That is debatable. The real problem is our vast political gray area. It enables opportunists to run amok. Unless this gray area is eliminated, democracy and the rule of law will always be subject to two sets of standards.
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Two female political superstars in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet have been implicated in a political scandal. Both have resigned. These two scandals have shattered Abe's two year record of no scandals and no resignations. Abe's approval ratings have again fallen below five percent, a new low since taking office.
This event has two implications. One is the political impact of the event itself. Public support for Japanese cabinet ministers has long risen and fallen in step with their verbal gaffes and involvement in scandals. Officials often find themselves in over their heads. Last September Abe's "Special Secrets Protection Law" ended his honeymoon with the public. Abe is still attempting to stimulate the economy to stop the slide in his support. But with this scandal, Abe's popularity may be a fading memory.
The second is the significance of the event itself. It offers an object lesson in ethics for Taiwan politicians. Two "golden flower ministers" have resigned. Minister of Trade Yuko Obuchi stands accused of misusing campaign contributions. She used political contributions to purchase cosmetics, leather accessories, and other items unrelated to politics. This is considered improper. Minister of Justice Midori Matsushima violated the provisions of the "Japanese Public Official Election Law," which forbids the giving of gifts. She handed out paper fans worth 65 Yen (22 NTD) to voters during political rallies. That is considered bribery" As we can see, the Obuchi and Matsushima scandals were somewhat different. But the two women were forced to step down just the same.
Had these two incidents occurred on Taiwan, would they have led to the same outcome? Probably not. The ruling and opposition parties have created a huge moral "gray area" that enables Taiwan politicians to weasel their way out of any punishment. Voters are easily swayed by histrionics and blind to reason. The media is indifferent to right and wrong. Politicians often misuse small sums, or use campaign contributions for unclear purposes. When indicted, they find it easy to spin their criminal prosecution as "political persecution," or as a "skeleton in the closet" and gloss them over. They refuse to admit wrongdoing, let alone resign. However, In politically fastidious Japan, even if such acts are not illegal, they are considered serious enough to require a resignation. Such acts violate the high ethical standards set by politicians and voters. Politicians are expected to practice "self-punishment" in order to maintain Japan's national image and honor. Clearly a huge chasm separates Taiwan and Japan when it comes to political ethics.
Japanese politicians are scrutinized under a magnifying glass, or even a microscope. In Japan, there is a strong sense of boundaries. What is one's own and what belongs to someone else, is sharply defined. If someone gives you a gift, you must give one in return. As a result the Japanese generally do not give gifts that are too valuable. Otherwise the other party bears too heavy a burden when he reciprocates. In such a culture politicians are terrified of committing even minor infractions. The Japanese emphasize a "sense of shame." For them such acts are considered heinous.
This is why the the Japanese Government established a "Political Contribution Rules Law" to limit politicians' use of funds during election campaigns. The specificity of the law is amazing. The Japanese government has also established a "State Civil Service Law," a "State Officials Disciplinary Law," and a "Public Service Ethics Law," to ensure oversight. During 2008, over 1,400 civil servants worked overtime, late into the night. When commuting by taxi, they accepted beer and snacks from taxi drivers. This led to a massive anti-corruption campaign. Eventually one person was suspended, another eleven received pay cuts, and 21 were forced to make public apologies. The Minister of Finance at the time was also forced to take a two percent pay cut, as an gesture of contrition.
As a result, Japanese officials guilty of even petty offenses have resigned in droves. For example, in 2001 former Democratic Party political superstar Seiji Maehara, accepted 50,000 Yen in foreign political contributions (about 16,000 NTD). He was forced to resign as Prime Minister and apologize. Former Minister of Agriculture Toshikatsu Matsuoka overstated his office expenses in 2007. He eventually committed suicide.
Now compare Taiwan to Japan. Wen-Je Ko set up the MG one hundred forty-nine accounts. Inadequate monitoring enabled a handful of people to control political contributions. Even if the National Audit Office finds no illegal activity, Wen-Je Ko made private use of public funds and is morally culpable. Attempts to investigate tax evasion however, are spun as "political persecution." The Chung Hsing Bills scandal, the Yu Chang scandal, and the Watergate scandal, are spoken of in the same breath. Yet they are cavalierly dismissed as "skeletons in the closet" by the medical community. If the people are willing to accept such low ethical standards, how can democracy and the rule of law progress?
Should Taiwan adopt laws as harsh as Japan's? That is debatable. The real problem is our vast political gray area. It enables opportunists to run amok. Unless this gray area is eliminated, democracy and the rule of law will always be subject to two sets of standards.
2014.10.24 02:53 am