Former KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou announced that he would run for President no matter the outcome of his embezzlement trial:

Former Kuomintang Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said yesterday he would continue his presidential bid even if he is convicted of embezzlement in his trial set to begin April 3.

Ma, widely viewed as the KMT’s best bet in the 2008 presidential race, is poised to register his candidacy for the KMT presidential primary. Registration for the KMT primary will begin on April 3, which coincides with the first court hearing when the Taipei District Court will address Ma’s indictment.

Ma’s behaviour both inside and outside court as he goes on trial for corruption on Tuesday could determine whether he remains front-runner to become Taiwan’s next president, scholars and analysts say.

Ma resigned as KMT chairman on February 13 upon being charged of lining his pockets during his time as Taipei mayor with NT$11 million from a special allowance fund set aside for the mayor’s discretionary use, at which time he also announced his bid for the presidency. Ma yesterday said that he would not speculate on the possible outcome of the trial.


Ma’s national ambitions, however, might be sidetracked by the litigation. Article 26 of the President and Vice President Election and Recall Law says a person who has been convicted and sentenced to a fixed prison term by a criminal court or who is standing trial for a capital crime, a crime that is punishable by imprisonment for life or for more than ten years shall not be registered as a candidate for the presidency or vice presidency.

Ma, having stressed that the national law only prohibits those who are found guilty of criminal offenses and can no longer appeal their cases from running for the president, said his determination to run for the president would not be affected even if he is convicted.

Nevertheless, Ma’s presidential bid could also be hampered by a KMT regulation that prohibits any party member convicted in a criminal court from running for a public office. In an effort to lift any blocking stones that might appear on Ma’s road to the Presidential Office, some party members have suggested changing the party clause to be in line with the national law.

The Taipei Times gave some details of Ma’s alleged crimes:

“If the first trial finds me guilty, I will still run” said Ma, who is set to register his candidacy for the KMT presidential primary soon.

“They would not get what they want by trying to use litigation to beset me, or even knock me down,” he said.

Ma is suspected of embezzling NT$11 million (US$332,425) and was indicted on Feb. 13 on corruption charges.

Prosecutors alleged that between December 1998 and last July, Ma wired half of his monthly special allowance — NT$170,000 — directly into a personal account. They also claimed that Ma has NT$11,176,227 in bank accounts belonging to him and his wife.

Taiwan High Court Prosecutors’ Office spokesman Chang Wen-cheng (張文政) said that while Ma’s monthly salary as mayor was about NT$150,000, Ma had deposited NT$200,000 each month into his wife Chou Mei-chin’s (周美青) bank account.

This, Chang said, led prosecutors to suspect he was embezzling public funds.

One annoying habit of the media, both local and international, is to refer to Ma as the frontrunner. All I can say is come March of ‘08, there are going to be lots of shocked media pundits. For my part, if both parties run the best election possible, the DPP will win another close election.

Will this mean much either way? No. People are voting for Ma because he was is the standard-bearer for the mainlander core of the KMT. There might have been some time many years ago that Ma might have grabbed a few votes because he appeared clean, but the ruthless identity politics of the last few elections has pretty much eliminated swing voters, even if they might swing to Ma. And at the moment, Ma is looking a lot dirtier than anyone likely to run for President on the DPP side.

Wild cards still to be played? Legislative Speaker and Party insider Wang Jin-pyng, still spinning out the skeins of his longshot presidential bid. And brooding over all of this is James Soong, the Chairman of the PFP. Ma has promised to ask Wang to be his Veep if he wins the nomination. In addition to uniting KMT heavyweights, Ma may well want to prevent Wang from allying with Soong, whom Wang is close to, in an independent bid.