Scandals Call for Criminal Investigations, not Political Purges
China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
January 22, 2015
Executive Summary: We hope that the newly-elected officials, including mayors, including Mayor Ko, as well as the Democratic Progressive Party, which has a chance of wining in 2016, will cherish this peaceful aspect of democracy. We welcome any investigation into corruption. But one must not use the legal system to seek revenge. One must not engage in blanket repudiations of a predecessor's policies. If political purges become the norm for newly-elected leaders, then peaceful regime change under democracy will be severely undermined.
Full Text Below:
Taipei Mayor Wen-Je Ko has been in office less than a month, but he has already launched attacks against Ma Ying-jeou, Hau Lung-ping, Chao Teng-hsiung, and Terry Guo. He has already condemned the Zhongxiao West Road bus lanes, the Taipei Arena, and Taipei Chiu Yue Yuan projects. Meanwhile, Taichung Mayor Lin Chia-lung denounced the BRT project as a fraud the day after taking office, and announced that the Taiwan Tower project would be suspended.
When a feudal state undergoes regime change, and a new monarch seizes power, he feels obligated to underscore the previous monarch's deficiencies. This is how he “demonstrates his compassion” and “rights past wrongs”. But this is the era of democracy. Ruling party changes reflect changes in public sentiment. Newly-elected mayors feel even more righteous when they “demonstrate compassion” and “right past wrongs”. They often do this immediately upon taking office. They categorically repudiate their predecessor's achievements, in order to show off their new thinking, new style, and new politics. The practice of repudiating everything done by the preceding regime is now standard operating procedure for newly-elected officials upon taking office.
If a newly-elected official adopts a constructive manner, offers new policies, and demonstrates courage, the public will naturally support him. If he fights corruption and attacks special interests, if he refuses to abet illegal conduct, the public will naturally applaud him. When Mayor Wen-Je Ko took office, he promoted many new policies. The dust from the ensuing controversies have yet to settle. But Mayor Ko displayed courage when he proposed new ideas. He dared to turn over a rock and aggressively promote transparency in decision-making. That warrants recognition.
But recent developments are deeply worrisome. We must caution newly-elected mayors, including Wen-Je Ko. Everyone welcomes the uncovering of scandals. But one must not tar everything a previous mayor did with a broad brush merely to win public applause. Prematurely leveling accusations of corruption is unfair to the previous administration. It will further divide society. It will set consortia against the common people, the ruling party against the opposition, and even intensify so-called “ethnic group” antagonism. Mayor Ko recently blasted everyone around him. By doing so, he trampled over due process of law and set many negative precedents.
There is nothing wrong with course changes. But a chief executive is not an civilian in the opposition. A newly-elected mayor is the focus of public attention. If he wishes to uncover corruption, he must present evidence. He must respect legal norms. His methods must be both reasonable and lawful. Regardless of Mayor Wen-Je Ko's motives, his means are highly questionable.
Assume for the sake of argument that the Far Glory Taipei Dome case, the Mei He City case, the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park case, and the Taipei Chiu Yeh case all involve corruption. How should an elected mayor in a democratic nation approach the problem? First of all, he should study the relevant legal documents and the original decision-making process. If there is cause for suspicion, the proper approach is an investigation by the justice system, acting as referee. The newly elected mayor should not hurl reckless accusations. Mayor Ko is not a criminal prosecutor. Yet he has used his office to accuse Far Glory of "lawlessness." What is this, if not “first sentence, then try” a practice that many, in particular DPP supporters, once rightly condemned? In fact, the correct approach is extremely simple. Mayor Ko should submit the contracting procedures he considers illegal to internal affairs, who will in turn submit them to prosecutors for investigation. This must be done for the proper administration of justice. Cases must be subjected to layer upon layer of legal review.
Mayor Ko even threatened vendors, saying "If you sue me, then I will deal with you first!” This too was a clear violation of administrative law, which "prohibits improper linkage." Internal affairs units have investigative priority. How can disputants be allowed to take part in cases connected to the administrative agency? That amounts to a flagrant abuse of executive power.
Ko said that the Taipei City Government rejects threats from consortia. It is true that Terry Gou's front page ad was a tad heavy-handed. But on the other hand, the Taipei City Government must not threaten consortia either. Mayor Ko agreed that "Consortia are important to the nation's industrial and commercial strength." To respond by seeking revenge is hardly proper conduct for a Taipei mayor.
Mayor Ko has broken free of the existing framework. He has experimented with a new political culture. To this extent, we affirm his achievement. We hope Mayor Ko is the herald of a new political culture. But that does not mean Mayor Ko can ignore the legal framework, blur the distinction between the tripartite powers, and treat administrative authority as a weapon and open fire on at everyone in sight.
One of the most valuable characteristics of democracy, is term limits and competitive elections. These allow peaceful, non-violent regime change. Politicians who seek political power, must be elected. They have no need to wage war, shed blood, or liquidate enemies. This means that the cost to the losers is reduced. Moreover, losers are not necessarily losers forever. Once the terms of those in power expire, losers still have a chance at a comeback. The cost of losing is small. The possibility of a comeback is permanent. This makes winners in democracies less likely to resort to extreme measures to defend their regimes. This also allows losers to honor the election results, concede, and step down. These are all factors that ensure stability within democracies.
We hope that the newly-elected officials, including mayors, including Mayor Ko, as well as the Democratic Progressive Party, which has a chance of wining in 2016, will cherish this peaceful aspect of democracy. We welcome any investigation into corruption. But one must not use the legal system to seek revenge. One must not engage in blanket repudiations of a predecessor's policies. If political purges become the norm for newly-elected leaders, then peaceful regime change under democracy will be severely undermined.