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Yellow-margined box turtles crawl around the mens bathroom of the harbor inspection office in Bali Township, Taipei County, yesterday after more than 300 of the animals were seized from smugglers trying to take them out of the country. The species is protected.





Listen to the voice

The thin end of the KMT's wedge

Sunday, Jun 29, 2008, Page 8

Does a political system dominated by a single party represent an improved form of democracy if differences of opinion are minimized? Close attention should be paid to any diminishing of freedom of speech and weakening of due process, and this requires careful scrutiny of the government’s actions.

After only one month of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) in office, many are beginning to feel that the momentum is moving back in the direction of the bad old days of anti-democratic and anti-pluralistic governance that once characterized this country.

The political scene is seeing the reactivation of flattery and the treatment of politicians as god-like figures. Political parties that resort to such techniques are ultimately hostile toward free thought. A hypocritical and corrupt political culture is exactly what Taiwanese have been trying to move away from over the last decades.

Several recent incidents have drawn attention in this regard. One involved former minister of justice Morley Shih (施茂林), whose application to regain his position of prosecutor in the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office was personally rejected by Minister of Justice Wang Ching-feng (王清峰).

Another incident involved former Ministry of Education secretary-general Chuang Kuo-rong (莊國榮), who lost his teaching position at National Cheng Chi University for behavior that was ruled as conduct unbecoming of a professor. Taiwan’s envoy to the US, Joseph Wu (吳釗燮), was also recently refused a teaching position at National Cheng Chi University.

Finally, Taiwan’s representative to Japan, Koh Se-kai (許世楷), was recalled to Taiwan after the Diaoyutai incident. This angered pan-green supporters, who believe Koh was recalled by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government because of his political affiliation. These incidents have too much in common and have been happening too frequently for it to be mere coincidence.

Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) recently announced that he would “start making adjustments” to the line-up of officials across the five branches of government. A list of Control Yuan nominees then released by the Presidential Office was criticized as an opportunity to provide “jobs for the boys.” Some also criticized the nominee for the presidency of the Control Yuan as being strongly anti-green-camp. Ironically, none of the nominees from the People First Party (PFP), which was started by politicians who split from Ma’s party, managed to secure a seat in the Control Yuan either.

Freedom of speech is the key to a democratic system because it ensures that the citizenry is able to influence policy. When people become afraid of speaking out and unwilling to express dissatisfaction with their rulers, the government will be emboldened and probably ignore the public interest as it suits and therefore evade responsibility. This set of circumstances is the precursor of an authoritarian regime.

Another way of identifying a healthy democracy is looking at whether it upholds the basic value of tolerance, because tolerance involves ensuring that different and unfavorable opinions are protected from being silenced.

Judging the Ma government by these standards and based on the atmosphere that is starting to spread under its rule, it is clear that a disregard for due process and the principle of proportionality has emerged.

For example, according to the law, Shih’s application should have been processed under the collegiate system by the Ministry of Justice’s Personnel Review Committee — not solely by the justice minister.

The question follows: How did Wang get away with taking this course of action?

A senior member of the KMT, Hsu Shui-te (許水德), once said that Taiwan’s courts were owned by the KMT. With the minister of justice apparently deliberately breaking the law and ignoring established procedure, there is a sense that the country is beginning to revert to the ways of old.

In the Chuang scandal, the evaluation committee at the Social Science College where Chuang taught did not take any disciplinary action against him. It was the university’s teacher evaluation committee that unilaterally made the decision not to renew Chuang’s contract, charging him with “conduct unbecoming a professor.”

This could mean that Chuang will not be able to teach again and effectively terminates his teaching career.

It has to be asked if the punishment in this instance was proportional to the bad impression that Chuang’s words left with people.

In addition, the Teacher’s Act (教師法) regulates the behavior of teachers at the time that they are working in that capacity. Chuang was on transfer from his university when he worked at the ministry; he was not on the university payroll at that time. What the university should therefore have concerned itself with is Chuang’s conduct at the school before that time and whether it met requirements.

The university must consider matters other than public perceptions and its image in the media. Otherwise, freedom in teaching at the university will be compromised.

It is also useful to recall an incident in which professor Lee Tung-hao (李桐豪) from the same university — and a PFP legislator at the time — said that former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) deserved to be killed for his actions.

No disciplinary action was taken against him, which suggests that the university has some work to do to dispel suspicions that it is acting out of political bias.

Taiwan has walked a tough road to democracy. It is therefore essential that we remember the time when the KMT made justice its plaything. But if Taiwan fails to learn from past errors and is unaware that intolerance toward difference could flare and be institutionalized all over again, then the next victims of those in power will be those quietly standing on the sidelines, hoping that no harm will come their way.

Since coming to power, Ma has made people with longer memories recall the days of authoritarian government.

He should be advised that there are many Taiwanese who are not prepared to let those days return.


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