Taipei Times: EDITORIAL: A minister’s unforced error

Enter Deputy Minister of Justice Tsai Pi-chung (蔡碧仲).

On Tuesday, Tsai Pi-chung posted a photograph of himself, when he was acting commissioner of Hualien County last year, with Hualien County DPP Legislator Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) on Facebook, praising Hsiao’s qualities and calling on people to vote for her.

The KMT had a field day.

The next day, Minister of Justice Tsai Ching-hsiang (蔡清祥) hauled him into his office and asked him to remove the Facebook post. By then the damage had been done. The KMT was accusing Tsai Pi-chung of using his official position to endorse the candidate of a political party, jeopardizing public trust in the neutrality of the judiciary.

The deputy minister defended the post, saying that the photograph represented him in his capacity as county commissioner and that according to the Civil Service Administrative Neutrality Act (公務人員行政中立法), he was technically exempt — even as deputy justice minister — from prohibitions on campaigning for candidates.

Regardless, there is an unwritten understanding in Taiwan that representatives of the judiciary keep their distance from elections. This dates back to late 2003, when then-minister of justice Chen Ding-nan (陳定南) announced his intention to join Chen Shui-bian on the campaign trail, causing an uproar. Aware of the damage his presence might cause to the party and to the democratic system, he withdrew.

Tsai Pi-chung might well be justified in his defense, but by refusing to accept the criticism or acknowledge the damage he is doing, he is putting himself above the party, party above the integrity of the democratic system, and technicalities above public trust in the judiciary.

Offering his resignation would be a dignified, responsible move after this clumsy misstep.

Read full editorial here:

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