by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Chen Tsung-yen/Facebook
CABINET SPOKESPERSON Chen Tsung-yen has resigned after reports that he traded his political influence for sexual favors during his time as head of the Tainan City Bureau of Civil Affairs. Chen had only held his post as cabinet spokesperson for 18 days, as a result of which he has been termed the shortest cabinet spokesperson in history. Despite resigning, Chen has denied wrongdoing. Chen’s resignation has since been approved by Premier Chen Chien-jen.
Reports about Chen trading political influence for sexual favors first appeared in online outlet RW Media. Subsequently, TPP legislator Chen Wan-hui, who is a newcomer to political office, held a press conference last Friday about purported records of text messages between Chen and a hostess store owner surnamed Wang. In the text messages, Chen promised to use his political influence to help Wang with law enforcement.
The next day, on Saturday, NPP head Chiu Hsien-chih held a press conference, stating that the NPP had received transcripts of wiretaps of Chen Tsung-yen from Tainan District Prosecutors’ Office. Chen Wan-hui also held a follow-up press conference that day to her previous press conference, revealing documentation about prosecutors suspecting Chen Tsung-yen of wrongdoing, and outlining their reasons for wishing to continue with a wiretap.
According to Chiu, the transcripts were delivered to the NPP in a brown bag with a note attached stating that releasing the transcripts would violate the Communication Security and Surveillance Act. As such, Chiu stated that this suggests the whistleblower was a member of the “legal profession.” Chiu stated that the specifically selected material was likely leaked by the same whistleblower to the KMT, TPP, and NPP at different times, suggesting that this had political ends in mind. Chiu framed this as a means by which the justice system had become caught up in political struggles. The note on the bag can likely be read as a signature from the whistleblower.
The investigation into Chen was closed in 2015 for lack of evidence, but the Tainan District Prosecutors’ Office is accused of deliberately suppressing the investigation into Chen, which it has denied. The Ministry of Justice has stated that the Taiwan High Prosecutors’ Office will be looking into the matter.
Chen served as head of the Tainan City Bureau of Civil Affairs under the mayoral administration of William Lai, who is currently chair of the DPP and vice president. Lai is widely expected to be the DPP’s next presidential candidate, seeing as no other potential rivals challenged him during the race for DPP chair.
The DPP’s chair is usually the president or the DPP’s presidential candidate, though Tsai previously resigned to take responsibility for the DPP’s losses in nine-in-one elections, as is party tradition. This is what created the power vacuum that paved the way for Lai’s run, weakening Tsai’s ability to influence the DPP’s next choice of presidential candidate.
As such, the probable target of the information leak is actually Lai. One expects this to set the tone for future political scrutiny regarding Lai going forward, with his time as mayor of Tainan likely to be examined closely.
This could potentially be a stumbling block for the DPP, with two DPP members of the Tainan city council under investigation for corruption, along with several pan-Blue politicians, as well as Kuo Tsai-chin, a former member of the DPP’s central standing committee. A public statement on Facebook late last year by DPP deputy secretary-general Lin Fei-fan, a Tainan native, openly called on the DPP and the mayoral administration of Huang Wei-che to face up to issues of corruption there.
But this could prove more troubling for the DPP if such issues go back to William Lai’s mayoral administration and this affects a presidential run. Going into 2024 elections, a relative strength of the pan-Green camp compared to the pan-Blue camp is party unity in that other possible candidates backed out in favor of Lai rather than challenge him for party chair. This suggests that the pan-Green camp may unite to avoid dividing the vote ahead of 2024 elections. By contrast, the pan-Blue is expected to see divides between New Taipei mayor Hou You-yi, KMT chair Eric Chu, and other contenders, such as TPP chair and former Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je and FoxConn founder Terry Gou. Yet it is possible that any scandals that emerge may affect a potential Lai run.