by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Ma Ying-Jeou/Facebook
Indictment of Ma Inevitable, If Party Assets Probe was Serious
THE RECENT INDICTMENT of former president Ma Ying-Jeou on charges tied to the KMT’s illegal party assets and KMT-affiliated organizations would have been more or less an inevitable event, if the DPP is serious about its current probe into illegal party assets of the KMT. Namely, as the chair of the KMT for around eight years, from 2005 until 2008 and then again from 2009 to 2014, there seems little way that Ma could not have been implicated in the DPP’s current probe into the KMT’s party assets and KMT-affiliated organizations.
In particular, the KMT has long been known to retain a substantial amount of assets from land and property seizures during the authoritarian period into Taiwanese democratization. This has led to frequent claims in the Taiwanese media that the KMT could be the world’s well richest political party. The KMT’s wealth has been a major part of why the KMT continued to dominate Taiwanese politics so many years after the opening up of democratic elections. Although the KMT has been ousted from the presidency once before the current Tsai administration, the present would be the only time in Taiwanese history that the KMT has lost control of the Taiwanese legislature.
As such, in line with broader efforts aimed at realizing transitional justice for past crimes committed during the authoritarian period, the Tsai administration has undertaken an investigation into illegal KMT party assets retained by the KMT and KMT-affiliated organizations, which may deny that they are controlled by the KMT, but are in truth lingering remnants of the KMT’s party-state.
For its part, the KMT claims political persecution, including ludicrous claims that the Tsai administration is carrying out a “Green Terror” worse than anything the KMT carried out during the “White Terror”—never mind that there has not been a single known death as a result of DPP’s party assets probe and the White Terror left tens of thousands dead.
One observes the ironic fact that, while remaining unremorseful for its past crimes, the KMT is generally attempting to depict the DPP as the “new KMT”. KMT politicians such as Taipei mayoral candidate Ting Shou-chung have claimed on dubious grounds that the KMT will be unable to compete on even ground with the DPP in upcoming 2018 local elections after the party assets probe, claiming that the DPP now has access to the war chest of government resources which the KMT now does not. Yet such claims seem patently untrue, considering that according to reports by the Control Yuan, even after the party assets probe by the DPP, the KMT remains Taiwan’s wealthiest party.
KMT-affiliated organizations dating back to the former party-state such as the Chinese Women’s League have already been targeted by the DPP’s party assets probe. The Chinese Women’s League was originally founded to raise funds for war efforts against the Chinese Communist Party and to “entertain troops to boost morale” during the period of party-state rule by the KMT, in which the Chinese Women’s League was directly funded by the KMT through the Military Benefit Tax levied on all imports from the US between 1955 and 1989.
Given such ties, while the Chinese Women’s League disclaimed formal connections with the KMT, over fifty members of the Chinese Women’s League staff retained pensions normally reserved for public servants. The Chinese Women’s League also commanded substantial resources, having total assets valued at NTD 38.1 billion in 2017, larger than the total assets the KMT reported that it possessed in 2017, which was NTD 18.1 billion. Nevertheless, when questioned on such ties, the Chinese Women’s League has even gone so far as to claim, rather spuriously, that the Tsai administration is carrying out persecution of women’s organizations in a manner similar to the endemic problem of sexual harassment in Hollywood revealed by the #MeToo movement.
A Sign of the Party Assets Probe Targeting Higher-Level KMT Officials?
IN PARTICULAR, Ma Ying-Jeou is now coming under scrutiny for connections to media organizations which had strong ties to the party-state such as the Broadcasting Corporation of China, Central Motion Picture Corporation, and China Television Company. Prominent KMT spokesperson, former legislator, and KMT Central Policy Committee member Alex Tsai previously faced criminal charges in connection with these companies in July 2017, around the same time that the Chinese Women’s League was being investigated by the party assets committee. It is possible that charges against Tsai, a powerful figure within KMT, were in preparation for charges against even more significant political figures such as Ma Ying-Jeou.
Ma is, of course, a former president and the DPP faces the quandary of how to deal with the fact that Ma in all probability had ties to criminal wrongdoing by the KMT without making this appear as if it were a form of political persecution. After all, all democratically elected Taiwanese presidents have faced charges after leaving office, and this fact proves dampening of the global perception that Taiwan has democratized, a key element of soft power for Taiwan.
Ma has claimed that the indictment was politically motivated on the part of the DPP. With Ma having recently been invited to share the experiences of his indictment with high-ranking KMT members, the KMT at large likely also realizes that they can leverage on claims that Ma is being politically persecuted for political purposes.
Given the sensitivity of accusations of political persecution, in all probability, the DPP will charge Ma but to allow Ma the option of paying fines instead of facing jail time, a usual way of avoiding indignities such as jail for the wealthy and powerful in Taiwan—even if that means that possible wrongdoings by Ma will go unpunished. But, either way, the Tsai administration will have to tread carefully regarding such matters. As seen also with the New Party spying scandal, the Taiwanese public will react strongly against police actions viewed as violating due legal processes even for individuals they have little fondness for, if those figures are individuals frequently in the public eye.