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Taiwan: Another President–Behind the Bar?

Corruption and nepotism has been not only cause of major concern in developing countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh or China but it has also haunted more developed society and regions and one of the regions in the world where it has thoroughly shaken the faith of people in bureaucracy and politicians is—Taiwan, the Republic of China. There are very few countries in the world where the former Head of State have been caught under the powerful claws of judiciary, and Taiwan is one of them. Not only the former President of Taiwan—Chen Shuibian has been incarcerated for 19 years, the first democratically elected President of the island-nation, Li Denghui is now being indicted on graft and money-laundering charges and accused of embezzling US$7.79 million in public funds.

Ironically, both Li and Chen are the two figures, which the communist regime in the People’s Republic of China loathes a lot. Li, born on15 January 1923, now 88 was the first major figure in Taiwan who advocated for the complete independence of Taiwan and was vehemently criticized, ridiculed and looked down by the Chinese authorities. In his pursuit and hankering for the complete independence of Taiwan, Li has been accused for engaging himself in “Blank cheque diplomacy or black gold politics”—trading off smaller countries support for regaining Taiwan’s mislaid position in the UN. Predecessors of Li, General Jiang Jieshi and his son Jiang Jingguo always dreamt of winning back the “Lost mainland” during the civil war— post Second World War, while Li after being directly elected by the People of Taiwan in 1996, openly screeched for the complete independence of Taiwan, understanding fully well that it was impossible now for them to win the vast and increasingly powerful mainland—the People’s Republic of China. China on its part reviled Li calling him as   the “scum of the nation” who should be tossed into the “dustbin of history.”

Li earned the favour of Jiang Jingguo and served as Mayor of Taipei city and Vice-President of the country before succeeding him after his death in 1988; however he wanted major democratic reforms inside the country. In 1996, he was openly elected by the electorates in the first ever election inside the nation and also became the first native Taiwanese to be the President and Chairman of the ruling Nationalist Party—KMT. Li also vouched for more power in the hand of local Taiwanese (Bensheng ren) and not in the hand of those who had fled away from mainland China to the island (Waisheng ren).

Most of us remember the June 1989 Tiananmen incident led by the students of Peking University in Beijing, but we have almost forgotten a similar movement with having the same kind of mission (Bringing liberty and democracy) in Taiwan which lasted for more than 6 days— March 16 to march 22, 1990 to be precise in Taiwan.  The movement, known as Wild Lily student movement (Ye baihe xueyun), in contrast with the Tiananmen movement, which was completely crushed by the communist authorities was a very successful movement and its demand of direct elections for President and Vice-president was met by Li Denghui. Li met the representatives of students in his Presidential office in Taipei, while a year ago; the peaceful students demonstrating for the similar cause in Beijing were crushed under the army tanks at behest of another Li and Deng (Li Peng and Deng Xiaoping). Explaining the name of this movement as “Wild Lily movement”, Prof. Yang   Yongming of NTU wrote in Taiwan Review in 2003, “For years, Taiwanese poets have employed ‘lily’ as a symbol of grace and resilience. It was Taiwanese literature’s use of this wild lily as a metaphor of simplicity and fortitude that inspired its use by those in the student democracy movement.”

In 2005, as the President of the country, Chen Shuibian on eve of the 15thanniversary of this movement also noted the major contrast between Tiananmen incident of Beijing and Wild lily student’s movement of Taipei. He said, “The most memorable impression of the Tiananmen incident of June 4th is that of that small, thin person holding up a line of tanks, which was a heroic and disturbing impression. On the other hand, The March Study Movement, in pressing for the establishment of a national affairs conference, changing the way the Legislative Yuan and the National Assembly are elected and a consensus on realizing the direct election of the president, also set a timetable for further reform.”

Coming from a humble background, Li has been an outstanding student from the very beginning and was educated in Japan and USA on scholarships. He also taught at premier Taiwanese Universities—National Taiwan University (NTU) and Chengchi University, Taipei. His research works on agricultural economy of Taiwan is a seminal work for understanding the agricultural situation of the region.

In 2000, during the Second Presidential elections in Taiwan, Li Denghui, however did not support his own party’s candidate and hence, the Nationalist-KMT lost their power for the first time in the country. Chen Shuibian, the leader of opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was elected as the President by a very slight margin of victory and Li was subsequently expelled from the party on charges of sedition and treason then. Since 2001, Li has not worked in favour of KMT and has been regarded as the spiritual leader of Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU), one of the major political forces in Taiwan.

KMT came into power in 2008 under the leadership of charismatic and Harvard educated, Ma Yingjiu and the next elections are just 7 months away in early 2012. Li has recently voiced his party TSU’s support for opposition DPP candidate Ms. Cai Yingwen against the re-election of Ma Yingjiu of KMT and many people see indictment of Li Denghui, as politically motivated and a manipulation by Ma administration gearing up for the next elections. They think that by indicting Li—a main voice in support of DPP, in corruption charges, Ma would dent into the voters’ bank which would have otherwise gone to the opposition party. Ma, of course, has scoffed off all these allegations and said that he would never tolerate any form of political revenge or manipulation of the judiciary. Li has been also accused of using bank accounts of several proxies and wiring off hundreds of millions of Taiwan dollars to Singapore.

On Li’s indictment, Ma has said that he has always respected the judiciary and that he would not allow any interference in ongoing legal cases. “Judicial independence is a crucial line of defence in a democratic nation and it requires a joint effort by the government, the opposition parties and the public to protect it. Time will prove that I have always respected the judicial process and that there is judicial independence,” Ma has affirmed.

On the other hand, Li accuses Ma of his incompetence and thinks that Ma’s “China-leaning” approach has weaned Taiwan’s international role and recognition on the world map while it has also encouraged wealth-gap and corruption in the nation.  He thinks that his indictment is political manipulated and this case has just come “Out of the Prosecutor’s head” suddenly. Li’s Party TSU also thinks that these are also done at the behest of rulers in Beijing as the Prosecutor General of Taiwan Mr. Huang Shimin recently held talks with the authorities in Beijing during his week-long visit to the country.

But, are Taiwanese mature enough not to attach a political tone to judicial cases, only the election results of 2012 would reveal!

(The author Dr Yukteshwar Kumar, is Course Director of Chinese Stream at the University of Bath, UK and can be contacted on

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