Taiwan Comes to Blows

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Young democracies are supposed to be messy. So when Taiwan’s opposition parties launched one protest after another in the past few months, both inside and outside of the legislature, trying to force President Shui-bian out. But I have had a considerable amount of confidence that the island democracy would sail through the troubled waters coming out stronger. Until August 24, 2006.

During a live TV debate on whether the embattled president should quit or not over allegations of corruption, the leader of a political party which advocates unification with China demonstrated his way to reach his goal. He beat up his opponent, literally. Lin Chengchieh, a former legislator of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party who is now spending a lot of time in China, punched and kicked Chin Heng-wei, the editor of an intellectual monthly magazine, Contemporary, who has served as a presidential advisor. All this to the horror of the program hostess and audience across the island.

This wasn’t the first time pro-China activists resorted to violence. A few years ago, my friend Cao Chang-qing, a New York-based commentator born in China, was attacked by a few angry men in a Taipei hotel for his strong support for Taiwan independence. However, it’s still very shocking to witness a thug like Mr. Lin to do his dirty work so openly and shamelessly.

The program was abruptly suspended. Mr. Chin, his nose broken and his face covered in blood, was sent to the hospital. Mr. Lin, meanwhile, stayed on when the program resumed later and offered an apology, not for his violent behavior, only for disturbing the show. Without a shred of regret, Mr. Lin threatened he would beat up Mr. Chin “every time I see him.” Comparing his attack to the French soccer star Zinedine Zidane’s infamous headbutting at this summer’s FIFA World Cup final, Mr. Lin said he didn’t act in a fit of rage. He was “clear-minded” at the time and knew exactly what he was doing. To achieve their goal, anti-Chen activists may have to push it to the “edge of revolution” as the Gandhi-style peaceful protest would never work, he declared.

Mr. Lin will have a chance to test his ability to get people to join his fight this weekend when a movement he strongly supports stages a massive round-the-clock sit-in outside the presidential office when more than 200,000 people are expected to participate.

The “Million People Campaign to Depose Ah Bian,” referring to the president’s nickname, is organized by Taiwan’s Mandela, Shih Ming-teh, who was thrown into jail for twenty five years under the Kuomintang dictatorship. Mr. Shih, whose movement has raised $3 million and obtained a million signatures, said that they will sit until Mr. Chen steps down. Mr. Shih served as a legislator and the chairman of the DPP in the 1990s but had a fallout with the independent-leaning party. Like Mr. Lin his supporter, Mr. Shih is only one of a high-profile former DPP politician who have befriended with the opposition Pan-Blue camp and become very critical of President Chen. Another former DPP chairman, Hsu Hsin-liang, is joining another movement which will hold a separate round-the-clock rally at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial starting today.

Mr. Chen has rejected the mounting calls for him to step down, two years before his second four-year term expires. And for good reasons, I believe. Yes, Mr. Chen’s image has been tainted by recent developments. His son-in-law, Chao Chien-ming has been indicted on charges of insider trading. First Lady Wu Shu-chen has been questioned about accepting department store gift vouchers. His former deputy chief-of-staff, Chen Che-nan, faces corruption charges. And Mr. Chen himself is being investigated for an under-documented portion of his state affairs budget. I’m all for the downfall of Mr. Chen if he’s to be found guilty of any violation of the law by the judiciary. However, the president hasn’t even been charged yet and there’s no credible indication of such an outcome.

Politics is politics and the opposition is under no obligation to be nice to Mr. Chen. In a democracy, the opposition has every right to make life miserable for the ruling party, as along as they’re doing it within the existing channels to play the game. However, they have tried their hands to evict Mr. Chen from office and failed — a vote on a possible recall referendum on the president was defeated at the Legislative Yuan, or parliament, two months ago. The Pan-Blue camp now is trying to mobilize the people to topple a democratically-elected government. This is not the way to address your grievances — the ballot box is.

Stephen Young, director of the Taipei office of the American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto U.S. embassy, has reportedly related Washington’s message to Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng, a former KMT vice chairman: unless there’s evidence proving Mr. Chen was involved in the series of financial and corruption scandals he has been accused of, he should remain in power for the sake of stability. “The U.S. position is that Taiwan should maintain its status quo,” Mr. Young was quoted by local papers. For once, I agree with this mantra of Washington.

The Pan-Blue camp, which consists mainly of current and former KMT people, has clearly demonstrated that it isn’t a loyal opposition in a democratic society. By undermining the DPP government, which they never truly recognize, the opposition is showing its true color — red. And their loyalty lies in China, not Taiwan.

Mr. Liu, a former chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association and general manager of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily, is a Washington-based columnist.

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