TAIPEI – President Ma Ying-jeou faces a personal Watergate scandal after his already unpopular government was struck by suspicions of misuse of the Special Information Services to wiretap parliament members, in order to get private information for political advantage.
The president’s half-truths and anti-constitutional behaviors have stirred popular and political discontent in Taiwan’s population, as 20,000 protesters gathered in front of the Presidential Office last 29 of October to demand his ousting.
As popular discontentment grows, the privacy breach scandals piles up.
The Chinese language publication Next Magazine reported that the government prosecutors used mobile conversations wiretapped by the SID, which revealed an extra-marital affair between Minister of Interior Lee Huang-Yuan and Solidarity Union Legislator May Chin, in order to blackmail into not voting for a motion of distrust against Ma’s government.
The report showed widespread abuse of wiretapping by prosecutors, such as surveillance of an high-ranking intelligence official, allegedly was using escort services on a regular basis.
According to newspapers Japan Times and Taipei Times, the misuse could have started when Ker Chien-Ming, a lawmaker who faced embezzlement charges, saw his charges revoked by Taiwan’s high court.
A special investigative union from the Taiwanese Justice Department bugged the lawmaker’s phone and, according to the prosecutors investigating the case, recorded conversations between legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng and Justice Minister Tseng Yung-fu where both agreed to get Ker out of the wire.
The Prosecutor-General Huang Shih-ming reportedly met President Ma on August, briefing him with the confidential information, which Ma proceeded to use to try forcing Wang’s, one of his biggest political adversaries in the Nationalist Party, to revoke his party membership and abandon his role as a speaker.
Ma called the lobbying case, “the most serious infringement in the history of Taiwan’s judiciary,” something that has been considered ironic by the president’s critics, who accuse him of going over the Constitution to overthrow and attack political opponents, and demanding that the President receives the same charges as Prosecutor Huang, who has since then been indicted on charges of leaking classified information.
For now the President has immunity from prosecution for being the head of state, but appeals have been made for court action after he steps from office.
After this incident speaker Wang saw his appeal supported by the court and later used his legislative function to review and slow down a very unpopular economical agreement between China and Taiwan proposed by Ma, that many saw as highly favourable towards Chinese interests.
Infuriated by this opposition Ma allegedly ordered the SID to wiretap the legislature and tried to gather more sensible information he could use to undermine Wang. Then after investigations discovered the overuse of the special services, Ma’s already low approval ratings dropped to a record 9.2 per cent.
During his 2008 presidential campaign Ma proposed his now famous “6-3-3” plan, where he promised Taiwan’s voters an annual economic growth rate of 6 percent, an average annual income of US$20, 000 and an unemployment rate of below 3 percent by the end of his first term.
Five years into his mandate and Taiwan’s GDP is growing more slowly than any other Asian Tiger and production levels have stalled, with the President’s politics and rhetoric long being accused of going excessively in favour of China.
Recently Ma stated in his Double Ten National Day address that “cross-strait relations are not international relations.” In another occasion he boasted how Taiwan was included for the first time in a World Health Assembly event, omitting the autonomous country had been included has as a province of China.
This together with the proposal of an economic pact that would increase Taiwan’s dependence towards China exports, have been seen as a dangerous approximation of Ma to the “One China” policy so he could get personal support from Chinese president Xi Jinping.
No matter Ma’s personal intentions, in a period where privacy infringement and breaching of privacy by government agencies has been under intense debate worldwide, Ma’s actions can be seen as the perfect example of how personal information can be used for very malicious intents.