The Lady and the Liar
After years of detention in her home in Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi was finally released from house arrest last week. The news brought cheer to everyone in the free world and renewed hope for those still trapped under the rule of Yangon’s military junta. The Nobel Peace Prize winner has dedicated her entire life to fighting for human rights and freedom for her compatriots, despite the unimaginable risk to her own safety, and bore the years of her imprisonment with characteristic resolve and dignity.
Meanwhile, in Taiwan, another political figure is in prison. Former President Chen Shui-ban resides in a detention center, waiting to formally begin his 19-year jail term for corruption charges after the Supreme Court upheld an earlier court’s verdict that he was guilty of taking bribes involving huge sums of money from business groups during his time as the nation’s president between 2000 and 2008.
Chen has exhausted almost every legal avenue to appeal the charges against him. Court after court has ruled that he is guilty. Yet he maintains that the judicial process was a sham, and that he has been framed by the ruling Kuomintang and China’s communist government, as punishment for his combative stance towards the mainland during his time as president.
In the latest bizarre twist to the saga, Chen reportedly told a friend that he is the victim of “political persecution,” and apparently compared himself to Nelson Mandela, the South African anti-apartheid campaigner who spent 27 years in jail for challenging the brutal, racist apartheid regime, before being released and becoming his country’s first democratically elected president.
Chen’s likening of himself to the great Mandela, one of the most noble and revered figures of our times, is absurd and narcissistic. Furthermore, it is offensive and disrespectful to the legacies of true political martyrs — particularly in a week in which Suu Kyi is preparing to risk everything, all over again, as she sets about renewing her opposition to the generals who hold her country in their iron grip.
Chen was a man of great charisma, who once inspired millions, but his grand promises were ultimately sacrificed to greed, and he has now lost even the support of most of his former political allies.
Chen’s disgrace has provoked justified anger and condemnation, but there is a sad, Shakespearean coda to the drama. His wife, Wu Shu-jen, is also to be jailed for her involvement in the same web of corruption. In rapidly failing health, she visited her husband earlier this week for what may be the final time, and many in Taiwan were touched by the scenes. Despite the Chen family’s flagrant disregard for the trust of the nation, it would be a hard-hearted person who would not feel some measure of sympathy as the personal cost of the former first couple’s failings became so clearly manifest.
“it would be a hard-hearted person who would not feel some measure of sympathy as the personal cost of the former first couple’s failings became so clearly manifest”
Chen Shui-ban is a tragic, lonely figure. All he has left is a determination to recreate the narrative of his own life story in defiance of the facts. But his efforts don’t convince. Despite the South African apartheid government’s claims to legitimacy during Mandela’s imprisonment, and Myanmar’s indignant and determined suppression of Suu Kyi, the world at large saw both acts as nothing short of political persecution. If what Chen claims is true — that Beijing’s shadowy forces and the Ma Ying-jeou administration have colluded to engineer his downfall — are we also to believe that independent international bodies such as the United Nations and Amnesty International, who have never once questioned the legitimacy of the charges against him, are part of the same conspiracy? Now that would be a story.