BANGKOK – Last week, a Taiwanese court sentenced Chen Shui-bien, Taiwan’s president from 2000 until 2008, to life imprisonment for corruption.
Chen had been caught stealing millions of dollars of public funds. He did not act alone. His wife (who also received a life sentence), children, and other relatives all helped to hide the stolen loot in overseas accounts. Taiwan’s former first family turned out to be a den of common thieves.
Chen and his ruling Democratic Progressive Party camouflaged their personal and parochial financial interests behind the patriotic mask of ensuring the survival of a democratic Chinese society in an independent Taiwan. For years, Chen was perceived as a brave David fighting the communist Goliath, and attracted many admirers around the world (including me at one point).
Presenting himself and his Party as champions of democracy, Chen sought to create the impression among Taiwan’s voters that their freedom would perish in the hands of the Kuomintang (KMT) or any party other than his own. But in fact, it was the late President Chiang Ching-kuo, the son of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, who instituted the unprecedented democratic reforms that paved the way for the eventual electoral triumph of Chen’s formerly banned DPP.