At one time, Shih Ming-deh, personal name Nori, could claim credit for standing up against the dictatorship of the Kuomintang in the struggle to bring democracy to Taiwan. At the Kaohsiung Incident trials in March 1980 he made a brilliant argument that Taiwan had already been independent for thirty years. Chen Shui-bian entered his political life as a lawyer for the defendants then. I was proud to defend Nori's sacrifice in international human rights proclamations.
In 1992 Shih Ming-deh lost the election for chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party to Hsu Hsin-liang because Hsu bought a few dozen critical delegate votes, Nori told me; but he did not want to tear the party apart to fight it. My own interviews inside the party supported this. Elected in 1994, and then allied with New Tide (Hsin Chao-liu), Nori made some effort to reform the DPP internally, without success. In my view, after that Shih Ming-deh began to lose the idealism and clarity of purpose that had marked his earlier words and actions. His "coffee meeting" to make a deal with New Party in late 1995 was widely criticized as failing the cause of Taiwan independence, and in his defensive reaction he began to hobnob with former enemies, defenders of martial law such as James Soong (Soong Chu-yu), who as head of the Government Information Office in 1980 had vilified Shih.
Despite his earlier steeliness as a political prisoner for 25 years, or because of it, Shih Ming-deh's life habits did not do him well for the daily grind of administration as a legislator and party chairman, to my observation. A loner and a night-owl, he could not make office hours, or communicate systematically with his staff. Their dedication was mostly wasted. He was endlessly flattered by reporters and hangers-on, and addicted to women, drink, and cigarettes. I think it was this ineffectuality that left him to seek the limelight with statements that were striking but not team-coordinated. Lawyers such as Chen Shui-bian were used to written documents, hard work, early hours, and teamwork, and the lawyers soon upstaged him.
Shih's 1998 campaign as well as his 2001 unsuccessful bid for a legislative seat in Taipei was designed by Rising Peoples' (Hsing Hsin Min-zu) Foundation, Hsu Hsin-liang's organization, whose founding had been largely attended by liberal KMT figures. Shih did not support Chen Shui-bian's drive for the presidency in 2000. Among others, he gave a talk at Shih Hsin University sponsored by a New Party figure, and after presenting his philosophy of how he survived as a prisoner, he ended with pot shots at Chen. According to Lin Chung-mo, Lin got tired of Shih's grandstanding and thinking he could manipulate other DPP legislators, and Lin drove him out of the party caucus in 2000.
This is a brief glimpse of how I think Shih Ming-deh has come to play the role he has taken up now; people are continually asking me this. There has been a clear pattern of the KMT using former DPP figures to attack the DPP; and the KMT, formerly the richest political party in the world, has the resources to make this ploy attractive.
By now many years have passed, and although Shih Ming-deh sometime in the last year announced he was withdrawing from politics, he has now announced a campaign to unseat Chen Shui-bian, including the threat of extra-legal actions. Are we really to believe that Nori is doing this out of concern for the DPP and the highest of ideals? For the last six years at least his activities and announcements have seemed mysteriously coordinated with the interests of the Blue Forces, and even the Peoples First Party. PFP members, I was told, urged him to run for mayor of Kaohsiung, and provided the funding.
If he is so concerned about corruption, why hasn't he spoken out in the past on Soong's Chung Hsin case, or the issue of KMT party property? Or the Lafayette case?
If Shih Ming-deh is to set himself up as the center of a crusade against corruption, then I think it is fair to ask him to make public his own finances for the last several years, and to face whether he has any interests together with the Kuomintang, which has been trying to bring down the DPP government from the very start, for a variety of pretexts, the first being Nuclear Power Plant No. 4.
Corruption has been long ingrained in Taiwan society, down to the lowest levels, and the change of ruling parties has only begun to alter the rules. We cannot defend the DPP in general or the President in particular in so far as they have taken the easier route of continuing past habits, trying to buy off the obstacles, and perhaps even lining their own pockets with unearned rewards. But is campaigning for Chen Shui-bian to step down now, without use of the present mechanisms of impeachment or recall, any advance towards democracy and the rule of law? Does it test or improve the present legal system? Or would it be a step back to the KMT's former easy appropriation of state resources and assets, when Ma Ying-jeou becomes president?
So why does Shih Ming-deh again want to foray into political action? It seems anachronistic for him to raise a specter of revolution, when now finally the citizens can exercise their vote. Does he have a long-term vision of what he wants? Does he still stand for Taiwan's emergence as an internationally-recognized nation? Or has he abandoned the ideal that he sacrificed 25 years of his life for, too?
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