by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: AP/Wally Santana
WHAT HAPPENS ONCE Ma Ying-Jeou’s presidential term ends? With less than a month before Tsai Ing-Wen’s inauguration, what lies next for Ma Ying-Jeou?
Obviously in a “normal” nation-state, transitions of power between ruling parties occur peacefully. Former presidents usually retire peacefully, though they may continue to weigh in on politics in varying functions.
But against the claim that Taiwan is a fully democratized country, it is that Taiwan has had two dictators—Chiangs senior and junior—and three democratically elected presidents, soon to be four. And if there have only been two past turnovers of power between political parties—soon to be three—we do well to remember that immediately after one of those two past turnovers, the former president was arrested on charges of corruption just hours after leaving office. This was, of course, Chen Shui-Bian, the first non-KMT president in Taiwan’s history and the only non-KMT president in Taiwan’s history until Tsai Ing-Wen, if the truth about criminal charges against him remains a matter of heated debate.
Chen while being released from jail on medical parole in January 2015. Photo credit: Reuters
Certainly, it is that critics of Ma, alleging the actions of his administration to have been in violation of constitutional law call for Ma’s impeachment. Others allege political corruption, in need of investigation, and call for investigation to begin immediately once Ma’s immunity as president ends. Still others have raised the possibility that Ma may flee Taiwan immediately after his term ends to avoid investigation for political, leading organizations as the Taiwan Association of University Professors, the Taiwan Forever Association and DPP legislators to call for laws to be passed restricting the freedom of movement of former presidents once their term ends.
If it is true that one cannot rule out political corruption by Ma given the infamously corrupt nature of the KMT, such accusations come primarily from his critics, who may be predisposed to see legal wrongdoing on the part of Ma. However, we see Taiwan’s democracy is far from firmly established, seeing as it has become a political issue as to what should be done with former presidents or of what former presidents may do in the future.
As Ma’s term drew to a close, sudden last-minute actions by Ma as a lame-duck candidate including visiting disputed South China Seas islands, led to calls for Ma’s impeachment before the expiration of his term so that Tsai Ing-Wen could take power quicker. This was in order to prevent him from drastically affecting Taiwan’s position in the world before Tsai takes power. As a result, the New Power Party has pushed for shorter terms of transition between presidents. In the present, Ma is continuing provocative actions regarding Taiwan’s claims over South China Seas islands disputed with Japan, likely aimed at damaging Taiwan-Japan ties before a Tsai presidency.
Ma during a visit to disputed island territory of Itu Aba in January. Photo credit: Reuters
It seems unlikely that the Tsai administration will pursue charges against Ma, since the Tsai administration is trying to present an image of being above partisan political conflict, Pursuing charges against Ma would have the appearances of political retribution, in the same vein as what is perceived as KMT retribution against Chen Shui-Bian. The KMT under Hung Hsiu-Chu has already seized on present calls to restrict Ma’s movements from DPP legislators as an example of DPP being vindictive in carrying out persecution of the KMT.
However, it is indeed a question as to what actions Ma will take once he leaves the office.Regardless of what happens, Tsai would not be in any real position to do anything about it. Again, transition of power stands on tenuous ground in Taiwan, with few historical precedents.
This would in fact point to the need for Tsai to cultivate Taiwanese civil society, in some sense to carry out the task of critique she herself could not do so directly, or even to push her on actions she would like to carry out, but would not be able to without individuals outside the DPP to voice actions and introduce them into the mainstream. So it is that Taiwanese civil society has sought to draw attention to the question of Ma Ying-Jeou’s future actions once he leaves office. Yet early signs are that the Tsai administration and Taiwanese civil society activists are headed for a conflict, through backsliding too fast on campaign promises, or even expressing sentiments of being unsympathetic and dismissive of student activists. As such, we will see as to the fate of Ma Ying-Jeou once he leaves office.