Thursday, December 22, 2005

Taitung Follies and Political Behavior in Taiwan

The local papers are full of the typical, and tragicomical story of the recently-elected County Commissioner of Taitung County in eastern Taiwan. Taiwan News describes the chaos:

The controversy surrounding newly elected Taitung County Magistrate Wu Chun-li took some new twists yesterday with Wu naming his "ex-wife" Kuang Li-chen as vice magistrate, even as he was being suspended from his post immediately after he was sworn in.

Wu, who won the seat in the December 3 election under the cloud of a conviction for involvement in corruption, said yesterday that he had divorced his wife on Monday, in what was seen as ploy to sidestep a law that would have prevented him from naming his spouse as his deputy.

Here, in a nutshell, is the reason why there is so much trouble cleaning up Taiwan. The Taiwanese complain that the island's politics are dirty and the politicians are venal and faithless, and yet, look who they elect to public office! It's as if the local plea to clean up politics is really a case of Stop me before I kill again!

The political practices here are quite common. In Taiwan, when (people who would not look out of place in Goodfellas) are busted while holding public office, they typically put their wives up for election, and everyone understands who is running the show. Wu here, preparing to be removed, stages a sham divorce, since he cannot appoint relatives to offices under himself, and appoints his wife as his deputy. Everyone understands what that means. If she beats the legal challenge, she serves as acting Commissioner and then runs for the post when the by-election is held. She oversees the by-election which, as Taiwan News points out, Wu can run in:

According to the MOI, the law allows for Wu to compete in the by-election for Taitung County magistrate, if he resigns his current commission. Under such circumstances, if he wins the by-election, he would not be suspended, the MOI said. However, if the appeal court upholds the guilty verdict against him, Wu would be relieved of the post, the MOI stressed.

Not a bad idea, to have your wife in charge of the district when you are running for office. That is what we call a "win-win situation." On the other hand, if Wu winds up in the clink, and if she loses the legal challenge to her position, then she simply runs for the seat anyway, the whole affair being essentially free publicity.

And when she runs, she'll win. And we'll all be sitting here shaking our heads.

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