Happy New Year to all! Use the day off to peruse the newly uploaded back issues of Taiwan Communique from 1982 and 1983, or stand outside in this polar weather (current death toll: 22) to watch the Quandrantid meteor shower this week, peaking on Friday, but good viewing pre-dawn on 4th or 5th. Or you can watch Taiwan’s favorite spectator sport, referendum flogging….

…this week the KMT said it would boycott the Jan 12 referendum on party assets.

“Referendums, as a sacred [democratic tool], have been twisted and kidnapped [by the DPP] and have become a tool to provoke conflict. Therefore, we sadly decided today to urge voters to boycott the [two] referendums [on Jan. 12],” KMT Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) told a press conference.

“This is a very painful decision for us,” he said.

Wu said the party did not rule out the possibility of boycotting the two UN-membership referendums — one by the DPP to join the UN using the name “Taiwan” and the other by the KMT to “return” to the UN using the nation’s official title “Republic of China” — scheduled to be held with the presidential election on March 22.

It’s always ironic to read the pious remarks of KMT bigwigs on democracy, since so many of them got to high places due to the KMT’s own longtime opposition to it. In fact Wu Po-hsiung’s uncle was murdered by the KMT, as I recall.

The March 22 referendum on UN entry, which the KMT is also considering boycotting, has been under a steady barrage of fire in the world media and from foreign governments, the latest pronunciamento coming from Japan. Today the Ministry of Foreign Affairs here produced a corrected version of the Japanese statement:

Japan has recently explained that it “does not oppose” the plan to hold a referendum on its bid for a seat in the UN under the name Taiwan, but hopes the referendum will not raise tension in the Taiwan Strait, a senior Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) official said yesterday.

Japan told the ministry that it will not support the planned referendum “if it leads [Taiwan] to take unilateral action to change the `status quo,’” said Huang Ju-hou (黃諸侯), chief executive officer of the MOFA Committee on Japanese Affairs.

Huang made the remarks in an interview in response to questions about Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda’s comment on the UN-bid referendum during a visit he made to China last week.

The comment drew international attention and speculation, with Fukuda reported to be opposed to the holding of the referendum along with the March 22 presidential election.

In addition to the use of referendums and boycotts, more and more this election is picking up themes from previous elections — like allegations of corruption against leading candidates. In his article on the Ma decision, Max Hirsch of Kyodo had this set of misleading set of statements from Shelly Rigger, often quoted in the international media, on the Ma exoneration:

”Part of Ma’s appeal has always been the widespread belief that he is personally clean, no matter what the rest of his party is doing,” said Shelley Rigger, a Taiwan expert at North Carolina’s Davidson College.

”A lot of his fans are saying, ‘We told you he was innocent, and now the courts say so, too,”’ Rigger said.

Although Hsieh ”has dodged a bullet with the special allowances indictments,” numerous other cases continue to ‘’swirl around him,” while Ma appears to be in the clear, she said. Prosecutors continue to investigate Hsieh’s campaign finances and other graft allegations, according to local media.

A last-minute indictment of the DPP frontrunner could torpedo his campaign in light of Ma’s legal victory, all but ensuring a Nationalist Party victory at the presidential polls next year.

”Overall, the lesson…is, using the judiciary to rough up your political opponents is risky, risky, risky,” Rigger added.

Rigger apparently is unaware that corruption cases also swirl around Ma, with more still to come. But they are unnecessary. What we’re doing here is flashing back to 2000, when Lee Teng-hui released the news that then frontrunner James Soong had allegedly skimmed millions and transferred them to the US. Soong would not be convicted — no one is ever convicted — but his image took a hit, and he eventually lost the election by 3% of the vote. Similarly, only the totally uninformed ever thought Ma would be convicted, and now only True Believers can imagine that Ma is not corrupt, for crucially, he admitted downloading the funds and using them for private use. Rigger appears to have missed the political import of that.

Further, Rigger’s claim that using the judiciary to rough up your opponents is “risky” must be laughed at — it cost the KMT nothing to hack on Soong in 2000, the attacks on Chen Shui-bian and his family over the last two years were very successful in damaging the administration and cost the pan-Blues nothing, and now, at no cost to the DPP, Ma has been shown to be just like everyone else (that was indeed his defense: everyone does it) and it is now a matter of public record. One also remembers more minor victims of apparent prosecutorial put up jobs, like Dr. Hsieh of the Tainan Science park sound damping system case. That too cost the pan-Blues nothing…..it is pure pro-KMT spin to see the Ma Exoneration as a DPP defeat.

Corruption revelations… boycotts of the referendum… referendums to bring out the voters… more formula from previous campaigns still to come.