Page 2 of 2 A return to dark days in Taiwan
By Stephen A Nelson
If that's true, should the trials of Chen Shui-bian and others come as a
surprise? And is Taiwan really returning to its dark days of martial law?
"Yes, I am surprised, but not totally," said Jacobs. "I would not phrase it
[that way], as Taiwan has clearly not returned to the bad authoritarian past."
But, Jacobs noted: "The two institutions that have been slow to democratize are
the judiciary (including the prosecutors) and the media."
Karakelas also disagrees with the idea that Taiwan is slipping
back into a dark night of martial law. "Although the events taking place under
Ma's watch are undeniably undemocratic, he is inadvertently doing the DPP a
huge favor," he said.
What's more, Karakelas said, the anti-democratic moves of the KMT may spark the
rebirth of a pro-Taiwan, pro-democracy DPP.
"By taking the steps he is taking, Ma's KMT is forcing the DPP back into its
old role as rebellious, persecuted protest party," said Karakelas. "He's
turning them back into guerrillas. [The DPP] was originally formed as a force
to oppose the KMT's one-party rule ... and it lost its path when it took the
reins of power. Ma is pushing the DPP back to a position in which it is
comfortable, and where it operates best."
Karakelas is among those who point out that many in Taiwan voted for Ma
Ying-jeou because Ma was supposed to represent a break with the KMT's past. Yet
three prominent members of that martial-law era regime - former vice president
Lien Chan, former governor James Soong and current KMT Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung
are part of Ma Ying-jeou's inner circle.
So what does this say about Ma's leadership and who's really running the
Karakelas and others say this demonstrates that either a) Ma is too weak to
resist the temptation to wield his executive power in undemocratic ways, or b)
that the KMT is still inherently incapable of operating in a democratic,
"Like it or not, Ma is engaged in a zero-sum game: rapprochement with China
must inevitably be paid for by sacrificing some of the freedoms that Taiwanese
people have fought hard for," said Karakelas.
Karakelas said that the real problem is not "how will Ma balance the loss of
civil liberties on one side and closer relations with China on the other side"?
The real problem is "at what point will Ma lose control of his balancing act"?
In fact, Karakelas said, "Ma isn't in control, even now, of the balancing act,
and that what we're really accusing him of is failing to rein in the more
conservative forces within the KMT that are running wild - both in terms of
political persecutions at home and abroad making rogue deals with China."
Jacobs also seems think that Ma is not really in control - and that the KMT old
In an editorial in the Taipei Times last fall, Jacobs noted that "the KMT still
remains unreformed, but party reform has become even more urgent".
In the editorial, Jacobs said, "The KMT center, and not the Democratic
Progressive Party, has become the most important opposition to the Ma
government." Jacobs cites open rebellion from KMT legislators, as well as harsh
criticism of Ma appearing in pro-KMT newspapers - as well as on the KMT's own
news website, KNN.
Jacobs went on to say that the only solution was for Ma to move out the old
conservative men in the KMT and take the reins himself.
Jacobs concluded the editorial by saying, "Clearly, gaining control of the KMT
is much more than a domestic matter. And it is vital to the maintenance of
Taiwan's democratic health. President Ma, please act soon!"
In the meantime, former president Chen Shui-bian is back in jail until his
trial. There he will stand accused by special prosecutors who have vowed to get
results. And he will be tried by a KMT appointed and approved judge - Taipei
District Court judge Tsai Shou-shun - that critics say has already made up his
mind that Chen is guilty.
Or, as the English-language Taiwan News put it: "Besides being reminded of
former KMT secretary general Hsu Shui-teh's famous admission that 'the courts
belong to the KMT', the script being followed should be familiar to anyone who
observed politics in Taiwan during the KMT's decades of authoritarian or
one-party dominant rule. Namely, if the KMT loses based on the existing game
rules, it ceases to follow the rules or rewrites the rule book."
On his website, Turton wrote that this turn of events makes it clear that the
trial of Chen Shui-bian is a political persecution. "Even the dullest spectator
can understand a kangaroo court," he says.
"It's ironic - a fair trial with competent judges and prosecutors would have
almost certainly resulted in a conviction - but now that the KMT has removed
judges it doesn't like and played havoc with the prosecution and the trial
process, it has tainted any conviction obtained," Turton said.
So what then is the future of Taiwan's struggle for democracy?
For years, under Lee Tung-hui, and later Chen Shui-bian, Taiwan's government
enjoyed a positive reflection in the international press, with the possible
exception of Xinhua. "The nation's commitment to human rights, democracy, civil
society and transparency were hailed as groundbreaking," said Karakelas.
"The current government of Ma Ying-jeou should not be surprised that this
positive reputation is being soiled. It has been scrambling to silence the
reporters and commentators that report on its undemocratic behavior. It should
be aware that Western journalists are not as easily intimidated as those in
Taiwan," he said.
But what about in Taiwan? What will be the fate of the democratic movement?
"It's been said that the very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in
common,” said Li Sai Fung, a former radio broadcaster in Taipei. “Instead of
altering their views to fit the facts, they alter the facts to fit their views
- which can be very uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that
For the KMT old guard, said Li, "Chen-Shui Bian and the DPP is one of the facts
that needs altering."
Stephen A Nelson is a Canadian freelance journalist now based in Toronto
but with one foot still in Taiwan. For eight years he worked as a journalist in
Taiwan, including two years at the Taipei Times newspaper. He was also a
broadcaster at Radio Taiwan International, where he produced Strait Talk, a
weekly program about Taiwan and its place in the world. He welcomes