How the SOGO Corruption Probe Reveals DPP's Palace Politics

How the SOGO Corruption Probe Reveals DPP's Palace Politics
Photo Credit: CNA
What you need to know

The SOGO scandal is not just an ordinary corruption case. It might upset the balance of power among the DPP factions that President Tsai Ing-wen has worked hard to stabilize.

By Dr. Liu Chin-tsai

Taiwan's cascading SOGO corruption probe has swept a number of legislators into its storm, including the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislator Su Chen-ching (蘇震清). Su's uncle and secretary-general to President Tsai Ing-wen, Su Jia-chyuan (蘇嘉全), resigned on August 2, soon after the case was publicized in a bid to defend the administration's image. 

Prosecutors alleged that several legislators across parties have accepted bribes from Lee Heng-lung (李恆隆), who lobbied for a legislative amendment that would help Lee win a lawsuit over the ownership of the Pacific SOGO Department Store. 

This case touches upon all the major political parties, including the ruling DPP, opposition Kuomintang (KMT), and New Power Party (NPP), marring each party's image and integrity. It also accentuates how deep crony capitalism has infiltrated Taiwan's politics and power. 

The corruption and bribery probe will not only affect the lawmakers involved, but will also throw DPP's internal factions into disarray. The Su family's departure from the DPP's core formation augurs to weaken Tsai's authority as the leader of the factions. 

Once the case was revealed, President Tsai wasted no time in accepting Su Jia-chyuan's resignation and appointed David Lee from the pan-Blue camp as the new secretary-general. But whether Tsai's swift decision is effective in mending the political wounds will be determined in the following days. The bribery case might give a reason for the voters to doubt the DPP administration's credibility. Even if the DPP insists that Su acted alone, it would be hard to predict whether the public will disassociate his alleged crimes from the party. 

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蘇嘉全請辭 李大維接任總統府秘書長
Photo Credit: CNA
President Tsai Ing-wen (left) appoints David Lee (right) as the new secretary-general to the President on August 3, 2020. 
Why did Tsai appoint Lee instead of someone from the DPP?

President Tsai chose Lee of the KMT instead of someone from the DPP factions partly because Lee has extensive diplomatic experience as the former foreign minister. As the United States election is inching closer, Tsai needs someone who can navigate the intricate relations between the U.S. and China. 

At the same time, Tsai could not have chosen another candidate in the DPP without upsetting the party's internal power balance. Former DPP chairman Cho Jung-tai (卓榮泰), DPP Secretary-General Lin Hsi-yao (林錫耀), and former DPP Secretary-General Hung Yao-fu (洪耀福) each belong to a different faction and had dedicated serious efforts to the DPP's 2020 election campaign. Choosing one of them would risk shaking up the existing dynamics within the party by elevating one faction above the other.

Tsai's rocky position as the leader of all DPP factions 

The DPP's power structure presents the clear characteristics of factional politics. The “divide-and-conquer” style of governance is evident in the central government's ecosystem. For example, Su Tseng-chang, who leads the second-largest DPP faction, is the Premier, while William Lai, the leader of the New Tide faction, is the vice president. Taiwan Normal Country Promotion Association, another faction under the DPP, is led by Yu Shyi-kun (游錫堃), the president of the legislature. 

Su Jia-chyuan, who belongs to the Tsai faction, may lose the priority to be appointed for the next role after his resignation. Someone who's in the midlength of the political ladder may have to take on a leader position sooner than desired. Su's departure might put the current power diversity at risk, weakening Tsai's authority as the leader of all DPP factions. 

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反滲透法三讀通過 蘇嘉全敲槌
Photo Credit: CNA
Su Jia-chyuan 
Nepotism within the DPP's palace politics

The KMT has also targeted Su Jia-chyuan and Su Chen-ching aggressively since Tsai took her second-term office in May. KMT members alleged that both Sus made unofficial visits to Indonesia in 2017, using their political power to reap personal financial gains. Su has since filed a defamation lawsuit against the KMT officials.  

The drama didn't stop there. The KMT Caucus went further to pursue the links between Su Jia-chyuan and his nephew Chang Chun-jie (張仲傑), the former CEO of Tang Eng Iron Works Co, accusing Su of subcontracting government projects to his relatives. Chang, while having rejected the allegations, resigned from his position. 

The power vested in the DPP leaders could easily lead to crony capitalism if they don't consciously avoid conflicts of interest. But upon the news of detainment, the DPP immediately suspended the membership privilege of Su Chen-ching, who had been working toward obtaining the post of magistrate of Pingtung county. This was a clear attempt to uphold the party's longtime stance on anti-corruption. 

For Tsai to push forward anti-corruption efforts in her second term, nepotism within the pan-Green camp cannot be neglected. 


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TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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