Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Face up to the Rapid Decline of Taiwan's Democracy

Face up to the Rapid Decline of Taiwan's Democracy
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
October 9, 2007

This year is the 20th anniversary of the lifting of martial law. For a democratic nation, this ought to be a milestone. But as this newspaper noted yesterday in an article entitled "Politics Spurned," the public remains highly distrustful of the executive, the legislature, and even the ruling and opposition political parties. What does the future hold for the Republic of China's democracy? The young republic seems to be losing its political bearings.

Ten years ago, the Taiwan region of China held its first direct presidential election. It looked the world straight in the eye, confident of its status as an exemplar of the universal value of democracy. Singapore to the south was an object of pity. To the western world, Taiwan was Asia's "Showcase of Democracy." Singapore's "soft dictatorship" did not pass muster.

But ten years later, whether Taiwan is better than Singapore is not so clear. Singapore leads Taiwan in the World Bank's "Doing Business 2008" ranking. It even leads Taiwan in democracy related areas such as clean government. According to Transparency International's 2007 annual report, Singapore placed fifth. Taiwan has fallen from 27th place to 34th place since 2001.

The World Bank's 2007 World Development Indicators Report reveals that Taiwan has regressed in every respect compared to a decade ago, whether freedom of speech, or political stability, or government efficiency, or rules and regulations, or corruption control. This newspaper's opinion polls show that public skepticism of the government exceeds its confidence in the government.

One could say that Taiwan regressed after it democratized. Or one could say that after democratization the people's expectations were raised. Because Taiwan's standard of reference is not just Singapore or mainland China, it is the western democratic prototype. By this standard, Taiwan's democracy has not advanced but regressed in many respects. No wonder the public feels disappointed and stymied.

Take even the simplest criterion: political fairness and political neutrality. Taiwan still does not qualify. For example, the Straits Exchange Foundation's Taiwan Business Association invited only Democratic Progressive Party presidential candidates to its Mid-Autumn Festival. This is merely one of many indicators. Every time the president speaks in public, he accuses the opposition party of "not loving Taiwan" and of "conspiring with Beijing against Taiwan," painting the political opposition as the Enemy of the People.

The government refuses to meet even the most rudimentary requirements for fairness, let alone respect the concept of institutional independence. The independent institutions established with great difficulty over the past decade, have become flagrantly partisan. The president can disregard the requirement that the Central Election Commission remain neutral, and publicly announce a timetable for a series of referenda (or more accurately, plebiscites) to correspond with upcoming elections.

Checks and balances among the branches of government lie at the heart of modern democracy. But the ruling party recognizes only confrontation. It pointedly ignores the will of the majority manifested in the composition of the legislature. Whether the issue is the "Rectification of Names" or the "Plebiscite to Join the UN," The opposition party holds a majority in the legislature. But it has been unable to offer a set of coherent political reforms to cure corruption. The public is alienated because it finds itself trapped and bereft of alternatives.

Taiwan did not regress according to every index. But amidst its progress, a negative force has appeared. The judicial system established some degree of independence over the past year. The First Lady and the vice president were indicted. This was unprecedented for Taiwan. But the political backlash from the ruling regime was also unprecedented. In order to smear the judicial system, the Green camp accused the public prosecutors of being Communists. The president filed a constitutional lawsuit. He invoked executive privilege and national security as pretexts to suppress evidence of his corruption. The new and independent judicial system now faced ubiquitous political pressure.

So many setbacks. So many disappointments. Taiwan has not come by its democracy easily. Famed democratic theorist Robert A.Dahl lists a number of conditions advantageous to democracy. The most essential is "the absence of a external force hostile to democracy." For many new and old democracies, this sort of "hostile force" doesn't exist. But the Taiwan region adopted democracy while under military threat from the mainland. The past decade or so has not been easy. Beijing has become the archenemy of Taiwan's democratic development. It has never never given up the threat to use force against it. More importantly, an immense mainland China provokes a kind of phobia on Taiwan.

As popular historian Fang Lung said, "Fear precludes tolerance." In an environment of confrontation, any attempt to establish a democratic culture is wasted effort. Most alarming of all, if those in power exploit people's fears, differentiating between "us" and "them" within one's own nation, democratic checks and balances will lose out to the power of populist demagoguery.

Why do nations exist? Strangely enough, if the ROC wants to become a "normal country" what matters is not its name, but its essence. When the majority of ROC citizens affirm our democratic system, when they believe politicians are incorruptible, when they believe in the commonwealth of nations, that is when the ROC will become a normal country. The ROC's budding democracy needs to redouble its efforts.

中國時報  2007.10.09










 即使有這麼多挫折、失望,我們必須承認,台灣的民主得來不易,有名的民主理論大師羅伯特.道爾(Robert A.Dahl)列出有利民主的條件中,最關鍵的就是「不存在強大的敵視民主的外部勢力」,對很多新舊民主國家而言,這種「敵視」通常不存在論,但台灣卻一直是在大陸的軍事威脅下實踐民主,過去這十幾年一路走來,確實是相當不容易。畢竟對岸之所以成為台灣民主發展的大敵,除了它從不放棄武力威脅外,更重要的是,龐大的中國在台灣內部造成某種「恐懼感」。



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