The outgoing Council of Grand Justices has hurled a Parthian shot at the opposition-controlled Legislative Yuan.Weng Yueh-sheng, president of the Judicial Yuan and ex officio chairman of the council, declared on the day he left office that part of the March 19 Shooting Incident Investigation Act was unconstitutional.In Explanation 633, proclaimed on Friday, Weng along with five retiring grand justices deprived the Commission for Investigation of the March 19Shooting Incident of its power to discipline government functionaries who refused to cooperate in the search of the truth about the mystery-shrouded “assassination” attempt on President Chen Shui-bian.The grand justices, all appointees of President Chen, also forbade what has come to be popularly known as the Truth Commission to recruit investigators on loan from law enforcement bodies.

What the grand justices, who form the constitutional court, did was to defang the Truth Commission, which was set up by legislation in 2004 to conduct an independent inquiry into the “Bulletgate,” an alleged conspiracy to get President Chen reelected at any cost.

President Chen, lagging far behind Kuomintang standard bearer Lien Chan in popular vote support, was shot at in Tainan on March 19, 2004.One of the two bullets fired grazed his abdomen.The shooting on the eve of the presidential election was rumored in central and southern Taiwan as an assassination attempt orchestrated by Beijing to help Lien win.On Election Day, voters turned out in droves to cast sympathy votes that made Chen squeeze past his Kuomintang rival.The winning margin was a paper-thin 0.2 percent.Lien contested the outcome but lost his case after two court trials.

Police investigated but could not solve the case.In the end, they concluded an unemployed martial art coach in Tainan, who had “personal grudges” against President Chen, sniped at the latter with a homemade pistol he had purchased from an underground gunsmith. The gunman, according to the police investigation, repented and committed suicide by drowning himselfin a Tainan canal.There was no suicide note, but his wife was forced by investigators to apologize for what her husband did.No smoking gun was found, and nobody could accept as the “personal grudges” the sniper entertained what he wrote in a very brief note he wanted revenge because he could not sell his house owing to the economic bubble burst, for which the president was responsible.Tainan district prosecutors accepted the findings and closed the case.

The opposition Kuomintang and People First Party could not accept those police findings.Nor could at least half of the electorate.Their lawmakers rammed through the act, which President Chen tried to veto but didn’t.Instead, the administration resisted the independent inquiry of the Truth Commission, which is like the Warren Commission in the United States that investigated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.Government officials were ordered not to cooperate with the Truth Commission investigators.No budget was allocated to the commission.The ruling Democratic Progressive Party asked for a ruling on the constitutionality of the commission.

In a previous Explanation, the grand justices ruled part of the act unconstitutional.They declared the stipulations in two articles of the act were unconstitutional but allowed the commission to operate until the Legislative Yuan that set it up dissolved in February 2005.When the new Legislative Yuan was inaugurated, the commission was revived.Those two articles ruled unconstitutional were amended, but the act as amended was contested by the ruling party.Another request for a ruling was made to the grand justices, who finally decided to make the Truth Commissioner a toothless tiger.They of course upheld the constitutionality of the commission itself.

The ruling party was elated.It was licking the wound when the grand justices gave them some balm.Only a couple of days before the parting shot had been fired, the opposition alliance rejected four grand justice candidates President Chen had nominated.According to the Constitution, grand justices must be nominated and the nomination is subject to confirmation by the Legislative Yuan. Opposition lawmakers, who form a majority in the nation’s highest legislative organ, turned the four nominees down.

President Chen used to be a student of Weng Yueh-sheng, who used to be a professor of law at prestigious Taiwan University.That’s one reason why Chen kept Weng, who was first appointed grand justice by President Chiang Ching-kuo.Like Kuomintang presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou before him, Weng is now under investigation for corruption in connection with the misuse of his special account.Weng may be indicted.

Whether President Chen would name four new grand justice candidates is unknown.Even if he does, they may be turned down again. The chances are that the council will be brought to its Constitutionally approved strength after a new president is inaugurated on May 20 next year.The new council, with Harvard-trained Lai In-jaw as its chairman, is likely to be asked to review the case and rule that the Truth Commission after all should conduct its independent inquiry without any obstruction from any quarters.

Even with its hands free, the Truth Commission may not find out what was behind the alleged sniping on the eve of the election more than three years ago.But the people will be satisfied that everything possible is done to search for the truth of the Bulletgate that handed President Chen his second and last term, during which he, his wife and close associates have been found involved in a spate of corruption scandals.Never before in our brief history as a democracy did we have a first lady standing trial and her husband, who is immune to prosecution, is regarded as an unindicted co-defendant who will be formally charged on leaving office.