The comedy that is the anti-corruption drive managed to focus the limelight on Mayor Ma of Taipei and alleged misuse of municipal funds and bring down one of its own leaders yesterday. First Ma, also Chairman of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), acknowledged there were some shenanigans with the receipts:

Ma said he adopted the dog during a stray-dog-adoption event organized by the Taipei City Government in 1999. Ma Hsiao-jeou then stayed in the Taipei Municipal Institute for Animal Health for quarantine and physical examinations for a month before the mayor’s wife took him home.

Ma said the bill for adoption and examination fees was sent to his office, and that the city’s Budget, Accounting and Statistics Department drew money from the fund to pay the bill because the dog was adopted during a municipal event.

“I thought my wife paid for it, and didn’t know the money was from the fund until recently ? Although the budget, accounting and statistics department said the procedure is legal, I was uneasy and paid the money back,” he said.

The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman insisted that his situation could not be compared with that of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and his family, who have been accused of pocketing public funds.

“I adopted the dog at a public welfare event, and so paying the fee with money from the fund is legal. Besides, I didn’t take false receipts to seek reimbursement. My situation is not the same as President Chen,” he said.

Puh-lease. There’s no evidence that Chen has taken any false receipts, and what Ma has done does not deserve a public hu-ha. Stuff like this is pathetic, especially when Ma already has a very corrupt and vulnerable side: his work as a student spy during his days as a student in the US. Somebody needs to hang him high with that. Dog receipts are a joke.

Meanwhile, in true blowback fashion, one of the anti-Chen campaign’s leaders had to step down yesterday when she turned out to be corrupt:

One of the key organizers of the campaign to oust the president for alleged graft resigned yesterday in disgrace after it emerged that her political party kicked her out because she was convicted on bribery charges 12 years ago.

Wang Li-ping (王麗萍), one of the camp’s decision-makers, yesterday announced that she was leaving her post with Shih Ming-teh’s (施明德) campaign to oust the president after the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) revoked her party membership because of her involvement in the bribery case.

Wang said that she would continue to be associated with the anti-corruption campaign as a volunteer.

Wang was convicted of bribery during the Yunlin County Council speaker election in 1994. She received a seven-month jail sentence, and a two-year suspended sentence.

Not, of course, that the campaign is about corruption. It’s about the Blues’ obsessive hatred of Chen Shui-bian. As Taiwan News asked the other day, if it was really about corruption….

We believe that it is high time for the leadership of the “Depose Chen” movement, especially those who formerly were part of Taiwan’s democratic movement, to reconsider their current path and redirect their energies in a positive direction, namely toward structural reform to establish a stronger legal and political framework for more responsive, effective and clean governance.

If the “One Million Citizen Movement Against Corruption” is seriously opposed to corruption, it should also be at least equally explicitly opposed to the continuation of corruption in the former ruling Kuomintang in the form of its ownership and gain from ill-gotten party assets.

If Shih’s movement is genuinely opposed to corruption, it should have long ago criticized the KMT and its allied People First Party for their six years of boycotts against the “Sunshine” bills submitted by the DPP-led Executive branch, including the draft bill for an autonomous anti-corruption agency, the draft lobbying law, the draft political party law and the draft bill to deal with ill-gotten party assets.

If Shih’s movement was serious about opposing corruption, we should have heard the former DPP chairman criticize the KMT and PFP legislative caucuses for wrecking clean governance institutions by refusing to carry out their constitutional obligation to review the president’s nominations for the watchdog Control Yuan and refuse to approve the nomination of Hsieh Wen-ting as the supreme public prosecutor.

Why have we not heard Shih discuss such matters with PFP Chairman James Soong and KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou during their encounters at the “Depose Chen” rallies? Inquiring minds do indeed want to know.

The failure of Shih’s campaign to raise issues of corruption in the KMT or PFP or push for the legislation of “Sunshine” bills and other structural political reforms unless Chen first resigns exposes the character of the campaign as concerned foremost with removing an individual from power at all costs, regardless of negative consequences to Taiwan’s long-term welfare.

Where is the protest’s positive plan for the future? They don’t have one. It’s all about getting Chen, and nothing else.

The real question I have of this campaign is not its goals but its termination. Will it go out with a whimper or a bang? I had hoped whimper, but the coup in Thailand has sparked speculation among many here that our Chen hating military may take matters into its own hands, citing the “social disorder” caused by the protests as an excuse for the coup. Those of you with long memories may recall that when Lee Teng-hui came to power, diehard mainlanders in the military and government threatened to stage a coup to prevent it, and only the intervention of James Soong stopped the coup. In 2000 disgruntled senior officers expressed resentment at the election of Chen, and in 2004 , according to the testimony of Lee Jye, the defense minister at the time, senior officers approached him with a plan to feign illness so as to destabilize the government. However, the Ministry of National Defense (MND) has pooh-poohed the possibility:

Army Commander-in-Chief General Hu Chen-pu (胡鎮埔) yesterday said that the military would never carry out a military coup like the one in Thailand, and that safeguards were in place to prevent individual commanders from taking control of combat units.

“The military does not support either the pan-blue or the pan-green camp specifically. Soldiers obey their country’s leader. The military’s only color is camouflage,” Hu said.

He made his remarks when he was approached by reporters for comments in response to concerns that a military coup might be a possiblity in Taiwan as well.

Hu said that the government was based on the Constitution.

The National Defense Act (國防法) puts the Minister of National Defense, not the service chiefs, in charge of the military. The minister reports directly to — and can be replaced by — the president.

A military coup has never been carried out in Taiwan, and would not occur in the future, he said.

Hu said that it would be impossible for an individual army commander to have the authorization to arm and deploy combat units. For instance, Hu said, a single officer could not deploy a fully armed tank.

He said that to order a tank to move from point A to point B would require authorization from the unit’s commander, but that arming the tank would require authorization from the commander of a seperate unit.

In addition, all military vehicles — including logistics and combat vehicles — can only be armed with live rounds following authorization from the Minister of National Defense, even during an exercise.

Bo Tedards, an extremely perspicacious local commentator (write more often, Bo!) writing in the Taipei Times, discussed some of the issues:

Surely they would be even more satisfied if a nice upstanding general would take power? Indeed so. Having visited the demonstrations several times on varying days and times, it is apparent that a majority of them are the very same people who used to support the New Party.

This group, which emerged from the old Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) “non-mainstream” faction, was strongly pro- military, and to this day its successors have many deep ties with the armed forces.

The good news is that the demonstrators represent just a small minority of Taiwanese society beyond the New Party’s support base plus a smattering of related groups in Taipei. So far, there is no sign of a genuine, broad-based national movement emerging. This is why a more serious degeneration of the situation is still not the most likely outcome.

Nevertheless, we still need to ask, under what circumstances could a coup occur? The most obvious one would be if widespread riots broke out that the police were unable to control. Sadly, again, the evidence before us suggests that serious riots are not only possible, but rather likely. Any one of the minor incidents that are now happening almost daily around the country could, with a little bad luck, flare up into something more dangerous.

Moreover, the frustration levels among the demonstrators, in particular, are certain to rise steadily, as it becomes ever more clear that their campaign to oust the president has no chance of succeeding.

It is that moment that scares me — that moment when the demonstrators realize it has all been for nothing, and less than nothing. Then they will be capable of anything. Recall that the papers reported two weeks ago that the Taipei gangs were already out in force covering the protests. Tedards points to one of the major problems advocates of constitutional government face in Taiwan:

This brings us to some comments by Yang Du (楊渡), a senior editor of the Chinese-language China Times. On his blog on Sept. 6, even before the protests officially started, he laid out the whole scenario. Peaceful protests won’t work, he wrote, so “the only way” to get Chen to step down is for the anti-Chen people to get “radical” and generate enough chaos so that the US would give the signal to Taiwan’s army to take over and restore order.

This tract demonstrates once again that the irresponsibility of Taiwan’s media is a key factor raising the risk of disaster.

Taiwan faces a situation much like the Weimar government did in the late 1920s, when key groups on the Center and Right opposed the democratic government and ensured that it would fall either by active opposition or by inaction, especially the military. Hitler did not kill German democracy; he was a consequence of its death. It was his predecessors, who, by invoking Article 48 (the act that gave the President emergency powers) and conspiring with the military — that had always wanted to bury German democracy) and the German Right, finished German democracy. In Taiwan there are similar groups, and the officer corps is similarly opposed to democratic rule, which to them means Taiwanese rule. Many locals are quite disappointed with democracy, and there are widespread remarks that democracy has made things more corrupt (probably true in a way, as more diffuse authority means that more people need to be bought off). Furthermore, the broadcast media is profoundly anti-Chen and pro-Blue, a situation that means that there would be a media apparatus ready, willing, and able to sell a right-wing Blue coup to the public.

There are, of course, many differences. Unlike Weimar, Taiwan’s identity politics guarantee a certain level of commitment to independent governance, since any pro-Blue, mainlander-led coup would automatically provke a Taiwanese reaction. Unlike Weimar Germany, Taiwan has a powerful protector in the form of the US. A Blue coup would naturally be a pro-China coup. What would the US do in the face of such a foreign policy disaster? I sure hope the US has sent some quiet messages over to the radical Blues Another wild card would be the government figurehead. Ma Ying-jeou would probably not participate, since he both lacks spine, and cultivates a democratic image. No, the obvious candidate to head the new government would be James Soong…..

….and of course, the longer the protest is out there, and the more radical it gets, the more it will make clear to the public at large that the Blues are radicals who are willing to put the future of the entire island at risk to achieve their very narrow political ends. Even a public constantly inundated with pro-Blue media nonsense may eventually percieve that.