Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Verdict

EDITORIAL: A guilty verdict to scorn

Taipei Times, Saturday, Sep 12, 2009, Page 8

Prior to the onslaught of Typhoon Morakot, one name in the Cabinet
stood above all others as a ripe candidate for removal in any
reshuffle: Minister of Justice Wang Ching-feng (王清峰).

Wang, who has presided over and contributed to a punishing loss of
confidence in the impartiality of the nation's judicial system,
survived this week's reshuffle after lying low for some months. Her
case was helped by not having a major role to play in the government's
diabolical response to the typhoon.

Any doubts about the justice minister keeping her position, however,
would have been removed given the timing of the verdict in the trial
of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), former first lady Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍),
members of their family and several other accused.

No president would dare sacrifice a justice minister on the eve of
such an important ruling, not even one as dismal as Wang.

Some might argue that Wang has done her job exactly as the ruling
party hoped: defending the government to the hilt despite
unconscionable lapses in the ministry's professionalism and pitiful
progress on judicial reform, while failing to defend judges and
defense counsel demonized in the press and by Chinese Nationalist
Party (KMT) legislators, including some on the legislative committee
that deals with judicial affairs.

For this minister, the presumption of innocence is a slogan to be
parroted at meetings with foreign visitors, not a principle to be
defended in the local media or among her fellow travelers in the KMT.
She remains the perfect foil as the Chen saga continues.

It came as no surprise that Chen was found guilty given that he was
found guilty in the court of public opinion many months ago, though
the severity of his and his wife's sentences may have surprised even
some of Chen's enemies. The safety of the judgment is yet to be
established, and the lengthy verdict will take some time to analyze,
but this much is clear: The trial was filled with irregularities and
scenes of breathless farce to the extent that the wily Chen has gained
considerable ammunition for what will likely be an interminable
appeals process.

The political consequences following a life verdict cannot be
underestimated. Chen's enemies in the KMT will celebrate tonight,
comfortable in the knowledge that the man most responsible in the last
decade for furthering the agenda of an independent, democratic Taiwan
has been taken out over the alleged theft of baubles — by KMT

The truth is that Chen — if he indeed is corrupt, if he indeed
committed forgery or was an accessory to such conduct, if he indeed
"embezzled" campaign funds — cannot begin to compare with the legions
of KMT officials, central government officials, regional and local
officials, company directors, entrepreneurs and many other categories
of the rich and powerful who have committed acts of fraud and violence
against ordinary Taiwanese for decades and have never been brought to
account — nor ever will.

The Chen verdict brings this risible saga to the next stage. Chen's
alienation of his supporters may soon bottom out as the government's
ineptitude and compulsive China policy allow the Democratic
Progressive Party to place renewed pressure on the government to
pursue reforms that get the politicians and politics out of the court
room and increase transparency across the system.

If that were to happen, Chen's proclivity for Christian imagery may
prove apt. For all of the people he has let down, guilty or otherwise,
his conviction could be the crucible that brings this mediocre,
cynical government to book.