Mr. Chen Shui-bian, an advocate of pro-independence policies vis-a-vis China, symbolized the democratization of Taiwan by winning a presidential election in March 2000. His victory ended the monopoly rule of the Nationalist Party, which opposes any moves to formally declare Taiwan’s independence. He served two terms as Taiwan’s president until May 2008. His arrest this week on suspicion of corruption is a political blow to the Democratic Progressive Party, which Mr. Chen had led.
The DPP has been trying to recover lost ground since its rout in the legislative election of January 2008 and the presidential election of March 2008. But the arrest is not something to savor for the Nationalist Party since it could sharpen antagonisms between it and the opposition DPP.
Mr. Chen’s arrest came at a time when President Ma Ying-jeou of the Nationalist Party is pursuing policies to deepen cross-strait relations. Taiwan and China have just had the highest-level contact since the 1949 civil war, signing agreements to increase air, shipping and postal links and to cooperate on food safety. They also agreed to hold high-level talks every six months. But a sizable number of Taiwanese oppose Mr. Ma’s push to tighten ties with China.
Mr. Chen was arrested on five counts of suspicions, including illegal use of the special presidential fund for diplomacy and irregularities in a land transaction. The Taipei District Court allowed the public prosecutors to arrest him since he potentially faces imprisonment of five years or more if convicted and he may destroy evidence.
Corruption plagued Mr. Chen’s administration. For example, in 2006, his son-in-law was indicted on a charge of insider stock trading and his wife on a charge of embezzling part of the special presidential fund.
When he was moved from the prosecutors’ office to the Taipei District Court where a request was to be filed to detain him, Mr. Chen raised his cuffed hands and shouted: “This is a political persecution, a false charge. Go Taiwan! Go Taiwan!” To prove that Taiwan’s democratic foundations are solid, Taiwan’s judiciary must ensure the investigation and trial are fair.
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