Friday, March 17, 2017

My Latest for Taiwan News: Yes the indictment of Ma is a good thing

The east coast near Chenggong in Taitung. Heading out there for the Apr 1-4th holiday. Welcome to join, should be easy riding.

I wrote my latest Taiwan News piece in reply to J Michael Cole's piece over at the National Interest, and also in response to the many remarks at the pointless statistic that all three of Taiwan's elected presidents have been indicted. Hey no shit, because two of the presidents supported Taiwan independence, and were caught up in a general campaign during the Ma Administration. This time it is different.

Cole's piece worried me. He said:
Worryingly, the notion that it is “normal” for governments to engage in tit-for-tat behavior by targeting their predecessors from the opposite camp for investigation after gaining executive powers has propelled the nation into a vicious cycle that fosters division at a time when unity is sorely needed to face the immense challenge posed by authoritarian China, which regards Taiwan as part of its territory. Such views, which have surprising currency, point to weaknesses in Taiwan’s transition from authoritarian rule to democracy. The belief in the politicization of the judiciary, that those in power are merely using the court system to punish their opponents, bespeaks a deep cynicism about Taiwanese politics and indicates that much work needs to be done to secure the consolidation of Taiwan’s democracy and normalization of its electoral cycles. Therefore, rather than celebrate the indictment of a former head of state—as DPP supporters are doing this week and KMT supporters did before them—the Taiwanese public should regard such developments with concern and consternation: there is nothing to celebrate when evidence emerges that the system is failing them, whether through corruption or the irresponsible handling of classified material.
This is largely true as far as it goes. Yes, people are cynical about the system -- the authoritarian party wins if it wins votes, and it also wins if people become cynical about the system. Therefore it works to foster cynicism about the system.

But at the bottom Cole is wrong: this is something we should celebrate -- this indictment is not an act of political revenge, but the system functioning normally to check abuses of power by the executive which are also normal even in well functioning democracies.

That pervasive cynicism is why writers who have voices that are widely listened to also have a responsibility to take the next step, and provide their audiences with a contexts and language so that they can understand what is going on and communicate it to others, but especially to the global media which you know is going to be both lazy and sensationalist on this one. That cynicism about the system must be fought, constantly. I wrote:
The indictment of Ma, which had long been predicted, especially since SID Chief Huang was eventually convicted of leaking the investigation to Ma, lead to the usual complaints. Many locals cynically viewed the indictments as pan-Green revenge for the KMT prosecution of Chen Shui-bian. Foreign observers despaired over statistic that all three elected presidents had been indicted once out of office. "Can it be good for Taiwan's democracy?" all asked, implying a rhetorical "no". The answer is yes, of course, and we should be cheering, instead of jeering, Taiwan's democracy in action.
You can't connect the Chen and Lee indictments to the Ma indictment, because the DPP is not engaging in terrorizing the opposition party via indictments, unlike the KMT, as I note extensively in that piece above. I am betting, however, that not a single foreign media organ reports the fundamental differences between those two assaults on previous presidents, and this indictment of Ma, nor will any view this indictment as an indicator of forward progress. Instead, they will all piously report "all three elected presidents were indicted! ZOMG Taiwan's democracy is precarious." It makes better copy, and saves difficult explanations, and validates the cultural superiority of western democracies over non-western (our democracies are not so fragile and corrupt, see?).
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums!


John Groot said...

Hi Michael, interesting piece. But could you please elaborate a bit more (if you have time) how this is clearly not political revenge? I mean even justice can satisfy the desire for revenge. Had the KMT won the last presidential election, do you think Ma would have been indicted? Cheers!

Michael Turton said...

I don't know if Ma would have been indicted. I think enormous pressure would have come down to stop it, but this prosecutor is pretty independent of that.

I thought it was clear. The case began under the Ma Administration, and there is already one conviction under the Ma Administration, and legal experts had long observed that Ma should/could be tried over his actions in the Wang case. Long before Tsai won the election.

If the DPP really was out for revenge, Ma would hardly be the only one indicted. Yet truly corrupt Blue officials have escaped indictment, because the System protects them.