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What Taiwan can learn from South Korea's Roh

What Taiwan can learn from South Korea's Roh

Former South Korean leftist president Roh Moo-hyun, a former human rights and labor lawyer who was elected in February 2003 on a platform of clean politics, ended his five-year term in February 2008 under a cloud of corruption in what can only be called a democratic tragedy. Upon the exposure of the corruption allegations that he and his wife accepted up to US$6 million in bribes from a leading tycoon, Roh denied allegations of bribery last Thursday but frankly accepted responsibility and told supporters that "I have lost the qualifications to say anything more about democracy, progress and justice."
Roh is the third former Korean president to be indicated by prosecutors and has ironically followed in the footsteps of the former dictator Chun Doo-hwan and his handpicked successor Roh Tae-woo.
During the term of centrist president Kim Yung-sam, both Chun and Roh were convicted in August 1996 for mutiny and insurrection in relation to Chun's December 1979 military coup and the brutal massacre of hundreds of pro-democracy protestors and citizens of Kwangju city in May 1980 and for corruption.
Chun and Roh were sentenced to life imprisonment and 17 years, respectively, but were pardoned in 1998 by former left-wing president Kim Dae-jung, whom Chun himself had sentenced to death in the wake of the Kwangju uprising in Kim's home province.
Ironically, both Kims were also later embroiled in bribery scandals involving their sons.
The difference between the two Kims and Roh, who likewise got his political start in the democracy movement under Chun's rule as a corruption fighter, is that Roh himself is the target of bribery in yet another example of the "self-destruction of a reformer."
Historical respect
Naturally, Roh's legal morass cannot help but remind Taiwan citizens of the current trial of ex-president Chen Shui-bian in the Taipei District Court on charges of embezzlement and money laundering.
However, there are crucial differences, especially in the subsequent behavior of the accused former national leaders.
In the wake of the bribery allegations raised by prosecutors, Roh's first response was to tell his supporters and the South Korean people "do not follow me again into this swamp and you must abandon Roh Moo-hyun!"
Thanks to his frank re-examination and declaration to his supporters to no longer follow him, Roh has at least earned a modicum of historical respect and opened the door for his former Democratic Party to revive its own reputation and fortunes.
It is worth noting that in National Assembly by-elections held on April 29, the ruling conservative Grand National Party of President Lee Myung-bak lost all five races, as the DP, now free of Roh's shadow, snared three seats with another going to the leftist New Progressive Party and one to an independent conservative.
In contrast, Taiwan's politics and the former ruling Democratic Progressive Party remains shadowed by the dark cloud cast by the Chen cases.
Besides indictments of embezzlement, money-laundering and bribery buzzing around Chen, wheel-chair bound former first lady Wu Shu-chen and several political associates, new scandals have erupted over promotions in the Taiwan military and stock transactions among private enterprises in a seemingly unending tornado of corruption that are being politically over-exploited by the right-wing Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) camp of President Ma Ying-jeou.
In stark contrast to Roh, ex-president Chen himself has displayed scant signs of engaging in serious re-examination, to cease interfering in his former party or otherwise withdraw from politics despite his detention and has thus made it even more difficult for both his former party to re-examine and move forward and for Taiwan society to face the unresolved agenda of purging the institutional foundations of corruption.
Indeed, the structural roots of corruption are especially evident in the case of Taiwan, whose culture of political corruption at all levels of government neither originated or stems from the actual or alleged malfeasance of the Chen family or the DPP but was fostered under five decades of authoritarian or one-party rule by the KMT, which earned a reputation for rapacious corruption during its two decades of rule on the China mainland.
The DPP needs to address the reasons for its failure to purge the institutional foundations of corruption, a failure that was largely hanks to the boycott by the KMT's legislative majority of numerous DPP-submitted "sunshine" anti-corruption bills.
But the most important question now facing Taiwan is whether the party that fostered an endemic corruption culture possesses the will to clean it up.
Besides failing to secure the approval of any major "sunshine" bills, the KMT government has yet to deal with its own massive "party assets" or to avoid mushrooming conflicts of interest in cross-strait relations and finance. The greater burden now lies with the governing party to crack down impartially on corruption, to address its own institutional conflicts of interest, to encourage legislative, media and civic monitoring and to refrain form abusing its powers or trampling on Taiwan's human right standards.


Updated : 2021-05-06 15:49 GMT+08:00