On October 14th 2013, a group of international scholars and writers issued a statement expressing deep concern about the "Constitutional Crisis" or "September Political Strife" that erupted in the Fall of 2013 when president Ma Ying-jeou attempted to remove Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng on charges of "influence peddling." The statement was published in the
Taipei Times on October 14th, 2013. This is the 10th joint statement / letter by the group since November 2008.
Joint Statement by international scholars and writers on Taiwan's current political crisis
backsliding of freedom, democracy and human rights
October 14th 2013
As international scholars and writers who applauded the transition to democracy in Taiwan, that began in the late 1980s, we are deeply concerned about the backsliding of freedom, democracy and human rights under the current administration in Taiwan.
While an erosion of democracy and justice has been ongoing since this administration assumed office in 2008, recent events constitute a fundamental breach of the basic principles of separation of powers and checks and balances in a democracy.
We refer in particular to President Ma's use of the Special Investigation Division (SID) against his political opponents, to his interference in the judicial system for political purposes, and to his attempt to remove the Speaker of the Legislative Yuan, Mr. Wang Jin-pyng.
Use of the SID for political purposes. During the past years, the Special Investigation Division under Prosecutor-General Huang Shih-ming (set up in 2007 to deal with major corruption cases involving government officials), has increasingly become a tool of the ruling Kuomintang Party to rid itself of its political opponents. It now also turns out that it has made extensive use of wiretaps against its opponents.
The SID did relentlessly pursue former President Chen Shui-bian, as well as prosecuting some four dozen members of the democratic opposition and former DPP government officials. Many of those were later declared not guilty by the courts. Only when the evidence could not be ignored, did it go after officials in the ruling Kuomintang, such as Cabinet secretary-general Lin Yi-shih and KMT Taipei City Legislator Lai Su-ju.
Interference in the judiciary. In the present crisis, President Ma is accusing Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng of "influence peddling" as Wang allegedly called Justice Minister Tseng Yung-fu and Chief Prosecutor Chen Shou-huang urging them not to appeal a not-guilty verdict by the High Court against DPP legislative whip Ker Chien-ming.
If President Ma considers this "influence peddling", then he needs to look in the mirror at his own actions: back in November 2010, when a District Court declared former President Chen not-guilty on one of the charges against him, he publicly criticized the verdict in the strongest of terms, saying that the justice system should avoid "detaching itself from the outside world" and "departing from public expectations".
A couple of days later, on November 9th 2010, President Ma invited the Chief Justice and the Prosecutor-General for dinner and again fulminated against the not-guilty verdict. Two days later, on November 11th 2010, the Supreme Court rather abruptly came down with a final "guilty" verdict in another case against the former President. If this was not influence peddling, then what is?
Breach of separation of powers. President Ma has attempted to use the "influence peddling" case against Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng to remove the Speaker from his position. The President used his position as chairman of the KMT Party to have Wang's membership in the party revoked. As Wang is an at-large member of the legislature, this would also mean that he would lose his position as Speaker. Mr. Ma's convoluted use of his two positions harks back to Taiwan's dark old days of Martial Law, in which the Party, the State, and the judiciary were synonymous.
If Speaker Wang had committed any minor transgressions, this could certainly have been dealt with by a disciplinary committee within the legislature. If he had indeed committed a violation of any law, then a due process of law would have been appropriate, rather than an attempt to evict Speaker Wang from the KMT Party. President Ma's actions against the Speaker certainly constitute a violation of the principle of checks and balances in a democracy.
Conclusion and recommendation. First and foremost it is up to the people and political system of Taiwan to resolve the crisis. In our view as foreign observers who care deeply for Taiwan and its future, it is clear that actions along the following lines would be most helpful and appropriate:
- Abolition of the Special Investigation Division, and an end to the powers that were vested in this office. A return to normalcy in the prosecutorial branch is long overdue,
- Judicial reform with the goal of complete removal of political influence in the judiciary, ensuring a complete independence from either the executive or legislative branch of government, leading to a clear separation of powers, and
- Legislative reform so that the legislative process becomes a true give-and-take of political negotiations, where all political opinions are shown respect and where decisions are made on the basis of rational discussion rather than physical threats and confrontation.
- Clive M. Ansley, Canadian Human Rights Lawyer and Member, Board of Directors, Lawyers Rights Watch Canada, Vancouver, Canada
- Coen Blaauw, Executive Director, Formosan Association for Public Relations, Washington, D.C.
- Jean-Pierre Cabestan, professor and head, Department of Government and International Studies, Baptist University, Hong Kong
- Gordon Chang, Author, Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes On the World and The Coming Collapse of China
- Wen-yen Chen, Professor Emeritus, University of the District of Columbia, and former president, North America Taiwanese Professors' Association
- William Cox MD, Nome, Alaska
- Michael Danielsen, Chairman, Taiwan Corner, Copenhagen, Denmark
- June Teufel Dreyer, Professor, Political Science, University of Miami, Miami, Florida
- Stephen R. Halsey, Assistant Professor of History, University of Miami, Florida
- William T. Hipwell, Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada
- Michael Rand Hoare, Research Associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
- Thomas G. Hughes, Former chief of staff to the late Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI), Washington D.C.
- Bruce Jacobs, Professor of Asian Languages and Studies, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
- Richard Kagan, Professor Emeritus of History, Hamline University, St Paul Minnesota and author, Taiwan's Statesman, Lee Teng-hui and Democracy in Asia and Mayor Chen Shui-bian: Taipei, Taiwan
- Mark Kao, President, Formosan Association for Public Affairs, Washington, D.C.
- Jerome Keating, Associate Professor, National Taipei University (retired), and author, Island in the Stream, a Quick Case Study of Taiwan's Complex History and Taiwan, the Search for Identity
- Hon. David Kilgour, Former Member of the Canadian Parliament and Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific (2002-2003), Ottawa, Canada
- Paul Kovenock, U.S. Department of State (retired), Arlington, Virginia
- Donald Rodgers, Associate Professor of Political Science, Austin College, Texas
- Christian Schafferer, Associate Professor, Department of International Trade, Overseas Chinese University, Taiwan, Editor, Journal of Contemporary Eastern Asia, President, Asian Political and International Studies Association
- David Schak, Adjunct Associate Professor of International Business and Asian Studies, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia
- Rev. Michael Stainton, President, Taiwanese Human Rights Association of Canada, Toronto, Canada
- Ross Terrill, Fairbank Center, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts; author, The New Chinese Empire and Mao
- Rev. Milo Thornberry, Author, Fireproof Moth, A missionary in Taiwan's White Terror
- John Tkacik, US foreign service (retired) and President, China Business Intelligence, Alexandria, Virginia
- Arthur Waldron, Lauder Professor of International Relations, Department of History, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
- Hon. Josef Weidenholzer, Member of European Parliament, Professor, Institute of Societal and Social Policy, Johannes Kepler University of Linz, Austria
- Gerrit van der Wees, Editor, Taiwan Communiqué, Washington, D.C.
- Michael Yahuda, Professor Emeritus, the London School of Economics, Visiting Scholar, George Washington University, Washington D.C.