Summary: This is a big show focusing on the alleged bribery cases against lawmakers across party lines and an in-depth look at what it could mean for the parties involved and the fallout for each of them–plus which parties could benefit. But up first, as always, are some headlines.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) said Wednesday said that all international students enrolled in Taiwan universities will be allowed to return to continue their studies, but it later made reversal on one aspect of the policy, saying students from China are not included.
Taiwan’s National Immigration Agency (NIA) has posted the up-to-date rules for those wishing to visit Taiwan amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Check their website for more details, which vary by country.
Four Taiwan cities — Taipei, New Taipei, Tainan and Taichung– have reintroduced mandatory mask-wearing in certain indoor places, after several foreign nationals returning to their home countries from Taiwan tested positive for COVID-19, sparking fears of a resurgence of local infections.
The places included are karaoke clubs, study centers, elevators, cram schools and movie theaters.
The Taipei MRT is also included.
Corruption scandal shakes up Taiwan politics
The Taipei District Court has ordered that three lawmakers be held incommunicado amid a probe into alleged bribery.
The three are Su Chen-ching (蘇震清) of the DPP, and Chen Chao-ming (陳超明) and Sufin Siluko (廖國棟) of the KMT.
Also held incommunicado were Su’s office director and Sufin’s office director, as well as Kuo Ke-ming (郭克銘), a political lobbyist.
The Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office on Friday raided the offices of six incumbent and former lawmakers for allegedly taking bribes ranging from several hundreds of thousands of New Taiwan dollars to NT$20 million (US$677,071) from Lee Heng-lung (李恆隆), the former chairman of Pacific Distribution Investment Co (太平洋流通), who was also detained.
Former New Power Party (NPP) chairman and legislator Hsu Yung-ming (徐永明) was released on bail of NT$800,000, following the release on NT$500,000 bail of former DPP legislator and former minister of foreign affairs Mark Chen (陳唐山).
Evidence appears to show that Hsu had made a commitment to the bribers, but whether he accepted the bribe is unclear, the court said, adding that Hsu is forbidden to contact related witnesses.
Hsu told reporters after his release “I cannot disclose details about the case, but I am absolutely innocent”.
Taipei prosecutors said that the lawmakers are suspected of taking bribes from Lee in 2018 to lobby the Ministry of Economic Affairs to amend Article 9 of the Company Act (公司法) relating to capital increases and to make them retroactive.
The proposed retroactive clause, which might have allowed Lee to take back ownership of the department store chain from Far Eastern Group (遠東集團) chairman Douglas Hsu (徐旭東), did not pass.
Independent Legislator Chao Cheng-yu (趙正宇) was accused of taking bribes from funeral services proprietors Chen Ming-han (陳明瀚) and Chung Ke-hsin (鍾克信) through Kuo.
Chao allegedly pressured the Construction and Planning Agency to alter the classification of a plot of land in Taipei’s Yangmingshan National Park (陽明山國家公園), so the proprietors could build a cemetery.
Chao was released on NT$1 million bail on Sunday, while his former aide Lin Chia-chi (林家騏) was detained incommunicado.
Corruption case fallout in the KMT
So now that we’ve covered the outline of what happened, let’s move to the political fallout, starting with the KMT.
The KMT has suspended membership privileges for legislators Sufin Siluko (廖國棟) and Chen Chao-ming (陳超明) after they were detained by the Taipei District Court, according to KMT Chairman Johnny Chiang (江啟臣).
The KMT Disciplinary Committee is launching investigations into Sufin and Chen, and the result of those probes would determine if the pair lose their KMT membership, Chiang said.
Under the KMT’s party charter, members have their privileges suspended if a court finds them guilty of corruption in the first trial, and their membership is revoked if they are found guilty again in the second trial, Chiang said.
He added “We have already fast-tracked the punitive measures”.
This is, of course, bad news for the KMT.
However, of three parties involved, they are the least impacted.
They may lose some light blue supporters to the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), the one party in the legislature not caught up in the scandal, but how many is anyone’s best guess at this point.
It may combine with other issues, such as fallout from what is shaping up to be a disastrous election in Kaohsiung which will likely lead to calls for Johnny Chiang to resign, and possibly the failure of the reform package to pass at the party congress in September.
Together, these could further erode the KMT’s base of support.
Corruption case fallout in the DPP
Moving over to the DPP.
The DPP has suspended Legislator Su Chen-ching’s (蘇震清) membership privileges after he was detained in the same corruption probe.
That led to his uncle, top presidential aide Su Jia-chyuan (蘇嘉全) tendered his resignation on Sunday amid bribery allegations targeting the nephew, and the Presidential Office swiftly approved the move later in the day.
Su said he was resigning to prevent causing further trouble for the president and to allow investigators to conduct a thorough investigation into the corruption allegations.
In his statement, Su said that in his 30-year political career, neither he nor his wife had ever been investigated for corruption or tried to use his position to cover up any alleged misconduct by family members.
The KMT have been in the last couple of months accusing Su and his nephew of seeking to personally gain from state-run firms’ operations in Indonesia through a 2017 trip to that nation.
Su filed a defamation lawsuit against the KMT for that accusation in late July.
Then, news broke on Sunday that a scented candle company run by Su’s daughter and Swedish son-in-law received nearly NT$16 million (US$544,000) from state-owned Taiwan Power Company (Taipower) in the first half-year of the company’s establishment.
Taipower denied that the purchase had any connection with Taipower’s business operations.
It also denied that the head of Taipower had anything to do with the order.
The Taipower Employee Welfare Committee, which made the order, claimed that the purchase of the gifts was made through a public selection process that was “in compliance with procedures, and was fair and reasonable.”
Aside from having a house that wasn’t properly zoned for agricultural land–which came out when he was the DPP’s vice presidential nominee in the 2012 election–these hadn’t been any scandal around Su that I’m aware of.
He has had a good reputation as an administrator–he was also previously Pingtung County Commissioner–and as a policy wonk.
During his run for Taichung Mayor in 2010–which he nearly won–I got to meet him, and I asked him a fairly difficult question related to land use related to his platform.
His answer showed he was clearly very knowledgeable.
The loss of Su is a blow to President Tsai, who appointed Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) Chairman David Lee (李大維) as Su’s successor.
This is an interesting choice, as Lee is reportedly in the pan-blue camp.
His extensive foreign policy experience, however, could come in handy.
Part of the problem facing the president is internal DPP politics, and balancing the various factions.
Su was associated with her own faction.
The Vice President, the Premier and the legislative speaker all represent different factions, and if she picked anyone from those factions it could upset the power balance between them.
This could get weirder if rumours are true that Tsai plans to appoint James Soong (宋楚瑜) to replace David Lee as head of the Straits Exchange Foundation.
Soong broke from the KMT to form the People’s First Party, which for a time was quite strong and for a time dominated the legislature in partnership with the KMT, but is now a fringe party.
Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌), in an attempt to put a positive spin on the scandal, said that despite alleged attempts by several lawmakers to pressure government officials to give in and favor a particular business arrangement, they stood firm against corruption.
That does appear to be true.
President Tsai Monday called on members of her administration to uphold high moral standards and eschew illicit actions.
This will likely hit the DPP’s popularity, but like with the KMT, it’s hard to say how much it will impact them with voters.
It’s possible some of their lighter green supporters could bolt to the TPP, but it seems less likely than with the KMT as the KMT is facing multiple problems all at once, and the DPP isn’t.
Also, ideologically they would be more likely to bolt to the New Power Party…but the NPP is also caught up in the scandal.
Corruption case fallout in the NPP
That brings us to the fallout in the NPP, which is probably going to be the hardest hit of the parties.
To their credit, they acted swiftly and on Saturday suspended party chairman Hsu Yung-ming (徐永明) over his alleged involvement in the case.
Then, Hsu on Wednesday announced his resignation from the party.
Shortly after Hsu’s resignation, the party convened an interim meeting of its policy-making committee during which all 10 committee members tendered their resignation, acting NPP Chairman Chiu Hsien-chih (邱顯智) said.
A new committee will be elected within three weeks, with members to serve until Feb. 28, 2021, he added.
According to the party charter, its chairman is elected from the members of the policy-making committee.
Following the resignations, the position of chairman remains unfilled.
Chiu said the party will present a code of conduct and ethics and a financial reform plan in the coming weeks.
However, the bad news continued when Taipei city councilors Huang Yu-fen (黃郁芬) and Lin Ying-meng (林穎孟) announced their resignation from the NPP.
Both will now be independents.
This is the second major crisis to hit the NPP, the first hit almost exactly a year ago.
Last year on August 1, founding member Freddy Lim (林昶佐) left the party and the party’s decided in the same month to revoke the membership of lawmaker Kawlo Iyun (高潞以用) after allegations of abuse of power to obtain government subsidies.
This was followed by then-Legislator Hung Tzu-yung (洪慈庸) joining Lim in leaving the party.
Some other defections followed.
To lose two Taipei city councillors is a big deal, because after national legislators Taipei city councillors are the highest profile lawmakers in the nation–and as such were probably very much being eyed as the future stars of the party.
The NPP was founded precisely to be a new, fresh and clean party that wouldn’t play the old, corrupt “politics-as-usual” game.
So for the NPP, this is a disaster.
In spite of the defections last year, they were able to hold on to enough support to get three seats in the legislature, though that was down from five in the previous session.
The big question now is whether this will destroy the party.
If there are more high-profile defections, it could spell doom for the party.
So far their three legislators are still in the party, as is their star Kaohsiung City Councillor Huang Jie.
What they do will be key.
The second issue for the party is will they be able to repair their image with voters by the next elections in 2022.
If they can keep party unity through this rough time, perhaps–the good news for them is there is a lot of time between now and then.
The big winner out of the NPP’s woes could well be the Taiwan Statebuilding Party (TSP), which has one legislator representing a Taichung district.
The party is Kaohsiung-based, but this may give them an opportunity to poach voters from the NPP’s power bases further north.
I’d like to give a shout out to John Ross, whose excellent book Taiwan in 100 Books by Camphor Press I just finished. If you love Taiwan and love books, I highly recommend picking this book up, it’s a great journey through the Taiwan canon–even if, like myself–you’ve read many of the books featured. There is also a mention of Taiwan Report in the book, and some well deserved praise for Michael Turton, who by the way is working on some history content for Taiwan Report.
Image courtesy of 時代力量 New Power Party Facebook page