The most frequently asked question in Taiwan in August was “Did you donate your 100 dollars?” The most frequently asked question in Taiwan today is: “Did you participate in the Anti-Bian sit-in?”
The anti-corruption rally is the news in Taiwan for the past weeks. From the day that Shih Ming-teh, former Chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party (DDP) published his public decry to Chen Shui-bian, urging him to step down as the President of Republic of China (ROC), followed by his announcement to lead the people to a peaceful sit-in protest until Chen steps down, the momentum of the anti-Bian movement has accelerated at an amazing pace. While it started as an “anti-Bian” rally, the theme was quickly changed to “anti-corruption” to reflect on the alleged corruption-plagued presidency as well as to attract a wider range of support from the people. In a way to differentiate from both the KMT (Blue) and DPP (Green), Shih and his organizers decided to designate Red as their color—as in the anger of the people against their “corrupted” president.
Fact 1: Unlike previous rallies, this anti-corruption rally is entirely supported by the people with no political party involvement.
Fact 2: Because of the non-partisan status, the movement attracted supporters from both the Blue (Kuomingtong, KMT) and Green (DDP) supporters respectively.
Fact 3: The movement requires the people to remit NT$100 as evidence of determination of support for the movement. The target was to recruit 1 million people. This target was accomplished in record time, collecting over NT$100 million in seven working days.
Fact 4: During that time span, many key Chen Shui-bian supporters defected and joined Shih, adding credibility to the anti-corruption movement; among them, many of them were key members of Chen’s successful presidential campaigns and made decisive contributions in 2000 and 2004.
The demonstration started on Saturday, September 9 in front of the presidential office building. Although the organizers anticipated a crowd of over 300,000 people, the actual attendance was far smaller due to the heavy rain storm on Friday night and throughout Saturday. However, the crowd grew steadily as the peaceful demonstration continued despite the poor weather. A few glaring facts in this rally that are being examined seriously are:
• A huge number of the participants are women
• The demographic of the crowd reflects typically Taiwan’s highly educated middle class
• There was no violence throughout the rally
• All participants joined the rally voluntarily; there was no mobilization by any of the political parties
• The resilience of the movement—despite the foul weather, the crowd continued to grow rather than decrease.
Before surrendering the right to the space in front of the presidential office building to the supporters of Chen Shui-bian, who were given the permission to hold their pro-Chen rally between September 16 and 20, the anti-corruption movement planned a peaceful rally around both presidential office building and the presidential residence on Friday evening, September 15. Amazingly, Shih and his organizers pulled another miracle—led a crowd estimated at 750,000 through a highly controlled, but peaceful walk-through of the presidential office and residential buildings that lasted through mid-night.
While the rally maintained a theme of anti-corruption, it is apparent that the rally was directed at Chen Shui-bian, the lame duck president of the island regime, whose term will end in 2008. Faced with the continuing declining economy, Chen and his staff has been the subject of allegations of corruption going back several years. In fact, his second term was severely discredited by the incident on the eve of election day in 2004, known as the two “magical bullets”. On the eve of election, Chen was mysteriously hit by two magical bullets that swirled around his body guard and scratched his belly. The news of his “failed assassination” quickly changed the voting climate and Chen narrowly won the re-election. Months later, the police claimed that the suspect of the alleged assassination was found drowned, allegedly committed suicide for fear of being caught for his “crime”.
Following the riot in 2005, erupted by the Thai labor hired to construct the subway system in Kaohsiung, which disclosed a wide spread corruption among the contractor and sub-contractors of the Kaohsiung subway system, the agency who recruited and managed the Thai labor, and the Kaohsiung municipal government, the allegation has begun to point directly at the presidential office, and senior officials that are closely related to Chen. Before this scandal was officially investigated, allegations that Wu Shu-chen, the president’s disabled wife, was involved in interfering with the transfer of Sogo Department Store to new ownership and profiting from the involvement. The alleged corruption scandal continued to include Chao Chien-ming (Chen’s son-in-law) with insider trading, the mysterious jewelries that Wu claimed to have borrowed from relatives and friends (with no evidence of returning), Chao and his family living in the former presidential residence rent free (a government-owned property), payment of his housemaid’s wages from the national security budget, and finally, the use of false invoices to account for presidential administrative fund expenditures in the name of secret diplomatic activities.
Throughout these allegations, Chen repeatedly claimed innocence and vowed that if he ever accepted the Sogo gift certificates, he will step down. When evidence began to surface that Wu is deeply involved in the scandals, Chen changed his statement to “he will step down only if there were evidence that he directly accepted the gift certificates.” Interestingly, the prosecutor’s office was completely quiet throughout the growing allegations. In filling the vacuum, the media took over and dug up all kinds of evidence indicating that there were indeed, presidential involvement in all of the alleged scandals. When the prosecution finally reacted to these allegations, they took an unusually passive route and moved in a snail-pace. Such unusual behavior led the people to believe that there indeed, is presidential involvement, and perhaps even obstruction of justice.
While the prosecutors of the Chao’s insider trading case eventually took the case to court, the prosecution chose to file charges against Chao for insider trading activities only and not the other alleged corrupted activities such as embezzlement and bribery. According to the legal experts in Taiwan, it is next to impossible to prove insider trading based on current Taiwan laws. Furthermore, it was reported that although there were mounting and obvious evidence pointing to bribery—an unexplained transfer of NT$2 million to the personal account of the Chao’s wife (the president’s daughter), the prosecutors responsible for the case chose to ignore completely and took no action. One interesting note is that despite the evidence, all defenders claimed not guilty but offered no explanation or counter evidence.
Another interesting note is that throughout these allegations, Chen has been quiet and avoided the presidential office; instead, he has busied himself with all kinds of activities outside of Taipei and Taiwan. Before the anti-corruption rally started on September 9, Chen flew to visit the two small Pacific island nations in Palau, and Naru. Instead of using the civil aircrafts from China Airlines and Evergreen, which is the standard procedure for presidential travels, Chen decided to use the “Air Force One”. When the United States denied his request to stop at Guam for refuel purposes with “Air Force One”, Chen insisted in using his presidential plane to Palau and changed to the civil planes from China Airlines to continue his journey to Naru and Guam, resulting an additional fuel cost of over NT$2.6 million.
While he was in Naru, Chen held a press conference for the media that traveled with him. At the conference, he admitted the acceptance of the Sogo gift certificates, indirectly, from the family physician Wong, as gifts for his grandsons—disclaiming prior knowledge of the source of the gift certificates and therefore, responsibility. He also admitted to the fact that he knowingly authorized his staff to use false invoices for drawing funds from the presidential administrative funds budget to cover secret diplomatic activities but insisted that there were no wrong doings in these activities because they were for the benefits of the country.
With mounting evidence and his own admittance to fraud, Chen refused to resign and vowed to complete his presidential term. In his effort to divert the public attention, he continued to promote independence as his main theme for the remainder of his term. Insisting in joining the United Nations as an independent sovereignty, he is now proposing to renew the application to the United Nations under the name Republic of Taiwan.
As the Chen Shui-bian saga continues, the future of Taiwan is indeed “bleakier”, or is it not?