My take on the Chen Shui Bien scandal long after it’s old news…

Ookay, so I was really going to be good and start cleaning right away, but then I figured I should reply to the lovely people who have so graciously commented on my blog… Lo and behold, replying to this little question of misanthrope‘s in response to my post on democracy in Taiwan: “What is your take on the scandal that brought down the previous government?” has led me to a whole, what would be called a “blessay” by that lovely Renaissance man, wosshisname… Stephen Fry. Of course, by me, it’s probably more of a digression (bligression?) than anything else, and I make no claims to have a clue as to what I’m talking about, most of which is drawn from hearsay. That said… Here’s the original “comment”:

Hmmm… Well, as I mentioned in the previous post, my father told me sternly before I came here not to get involved in politics… Then proceeded to avidly question me whenever we chatted about politics, to which my usual answer was to cheekily remind him of his command and say I had no idea.

I actually haven’t followed things too much here, honestly, Michael Turton’s blog would probably be best to look at for this sort of thing…

Disclaimer aside, as far as I HAVE followed things… I think the scandal involving the inappropriate use of funds for his wife‘s jewelry was a huge slap in the face for a lot of Taiwanese people who really believed in the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) –the nativist party here representing the pre-Chiang Kai Shek residents of Taiwan. It was a huge achievement for Chen Shui Bien to become president and for the party and their platform to get that kind of recognition by the country at large. The fund that was used for his wife’s jewelry seemed kind of sketchy in the first place, due to the sketchy nature of Taiwan’s nationhood. Apparently it was kind of used for back-door dealings with other countries possibly to get recognition (my reading in-between-the lines indicates most probably bribes…), and therefore wasn’t really, errm, recorded and budgeted. However, that said, it was obviously NOT for first-lady bling, though it was probably very tempting due to its aforementioned sketchy nature. The allegations of insider trading and embezzlement by his son-in-law are not specifically government-related as far as I can tell, but family reputation obviously is still rather enmeshed here, and the stain by association as well as the allegations of his helping out his son-in-law try to avoid inquiry haven’t sat too well with people.
The backlash against the corruption was HUGE, of course, calling for Chen Shui Bien’s resignation. Probably 97% of the people I know in Taipei took part in the rallies, and I was stopped on the street a number of times due to my non-political propensity to wear red.

The rallies involved people from all the parties, including some of Chen Shui Bien’s own, and I think really represented a deep-seated disappointment because the DPP was supposed to be a big change from KMT corruption.

The scandal also probably alienated a lot of people from believing in politics too. Most of the young people I’ve talked to have expressed dissatisfaction with the political parties, representatives, and the way the media handles representing politics. From what I’ve observed, there is obviously reason to be disenchanted– the political discourse here tends to be pretty petty and probably more appropriate for middle-school sniping than… *stops and tries to think of political discourse that isn’t petty middle-schoolish sniping… um… hum.* Okay, well, it takes political discourse to unfortunate lows oftentimes.

Besides the scandal, though, I think a lot of Taiwanese are really concerned about the economy and the fate and future of Taiwan in the face of China’s growing political and economic power and influence. Much of “made in Taiwan” production has been forced to go to the mainland. I suspect Taiwan is struggling from that loss of revenue, brain-drain emigration, and I don’t think the political uncertainty helps. That said, the malls are always full of shoppers when I visit them (albeit, I visit malls extremely rarely), though I hear Taiwan has its own version of a credit crisis as well. The Blue party (the KMT) has been playing well to people in Taipei and to Taiwanese businessmen who have factories, etc., in China and don’t want the boat to rock too much. A lot of people seem to feel like the DPP seems to have done a good deal of superficial name-changing, things from “Chiang Kai Shek Memorial” to “Democracy Hall,” and “CKS Int’l Airport” to “Taoyuan Int’l Airport” and the post office and the airline, etc., with a lot of attendant controversy, but not enough of other things, or as a distraction, perhaps. One friend I talked to said that the DPP has struggled with the presidency because they were still a fairly young party and didn’t have the resources to draw on to govern that the KMT had in terms of knowledgeable cabinet members, etc., though the DPP did ask for bi-partisan help. Another person disagreed with that, however, so I’m not sure exactly where the truth lies.

I should pay more attention to the media, actually, though the idea of an objective media doesn’t seem to really apply here where there are at least 5 news channels. It’s actually another blessay in and of itself– the quality of Taiwanese journalism is one thing my cousin regaled me with unbelievable stories about last night actually.

The presidential election is still to come, but I see Ma Ying Jeou, the KMT candidate and most recent mayor of Taipei, on posters everywhere (complete with hand signs like thumbs up, which I find rather funny). Watched him visit Taoyuan’s New Year’s celebration and sing with the Taoyuan mayor (Taoyuan is a district bordering Taipei), and say that he’d been to Kaioshung (the southernmost, second-largest city in the country), and quite a few other cities before we watched him at the count-down to Taipei 101’s fireworks this year on TV. He’s not going to win based on his singing, though I’ve heard he might slide through on his looks… (I know it’s not supposed to be a beauty pageant, but then my home state gave up Harris Wofford, an older, knowledgeable, experienced candidate for Rick Santorum, whose major qualification seemed to me of being a perfectly capable suit model and not much else). The KMT has the momentum of the backlash against the DPP going for them, and may very well sweep the presidency in addition to the legislature. Anyway, I suspect I’ll be hearing more election trucks once March gets a bit closer.

And, considering the history of Taiwanese politics, really, anything can happen. Talking politics over with my cousin, I explained the phrase “blood sport” — as he was explaining that he was not interested in any of the choices and didn’t want to bother to vote for a lesser evil (my uncle, his father, also apparently cautioned him to stay out of politics, considering the history of what happens to people here who have gotten involved, I can’t blame our fathers for not wanting us to play in this particular blood sport). Also, here, there are no absentee ballots (various explanations for which party would stand to lose in the case of absentee ballots have been given to me– the police who have extra duty on election day don’t get to vote, the boys serving military service don’t get to vote, many Taiwanese businessmen overseas don’t come back, many Taiwanese emigrants like my parents don’t come back, and many students don’t interrupt their studies to go to their hometowns to vote.) probably due to the increased possibility of corruption. I believe it is an essential right to vote, though, and there is a level of discussion about politics here that feels more involved sometimes with more disparate elements of the people than back in the US.

But maybe that’s because in general, life in Taiwan often feels a bit… well… more raw somehow, less packaged– like going to the traditional market instead of the supermarket, the chicken is clucking then hanging defeathered upside down complete with its head, versus the sanitized, styrofoam-wrapped chunks in the refrigerator chests.

I’m sure there’s a perfectly good metaphor somewhere that I’m missing by a mile.

Yikes– time to get back to being good about doing stuff… Photos may be added to this post later.

But before I go– for you American voters out there, one person here I talked to about politics expressed a deep admiration for Obama and said that watching Obama’s speeches really impressed him and made him wish he had someone that good to vote for in Taiwan. So as far as Obama’s ability to impress and garner international respect, he has at least one admirer on this particular island.

Edited thanks to David’s comment below. 


5 Responses to “My take on the Chen Shui Bien scandal long after it’s old news…”

  1. February 11, 2008 at 1:52 pm

    Please don’t use Green Party to refer to Chen Shui-bian and the DPP. The Green Party and the DPP are separate entities. Taiwan’s Green Party is very small and part of the world wide movement of Green Parties. Chen Shui-bian’s party is the DPP which was borne out of the dangwai movement here in Taiwan.

  2. February 11, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    Thanks for letting me know, David. As I said, I’m actually fairly clueless about these things here, but I’m happy to stand corrected. I suppose I just called it the “Green Party” due to the color-identification of the party.

  3. 3 michaelturton
    February 11, 2008 at 3:07 pm

    Hey! Thanks for the plug. The tendency of the young to check out of politics is disturbing, but it is linked to another disturbing problem, and that is the tendency of Taiwanese to be more critical of Taiwan than it deserves.


  4. February 12, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    You’re very welcome– thank YOU for the kind words you’ve said about my own blog in the past!

    I think that the Taiwanese tend to be critical of Taiwan in the sense of wanting more out of their country. Sometimes I feel Taipei is a bit wannabe Seoul or Tokyo. Maybe Taiwan is still in the process of growing into itself with all the attendant pains and grimaces that accompany growth spurts…

    I was really surprised though by the amount of “Why’d you want to come HERE?” I got when I first arrived, though. I guess there’s kind of the feeling of wanting to sit with the cool kids sometimes, which can be a pity.

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Free Rice

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