Liberation from Black Gold: The First Step towards a Healthy Democracy
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
March 6, 2010
The legislative by-elections have just ended. The five cities elections will soon be the focus of public attention. Most observers' attention is focused on the rival Blue and Green political camps, on how the outcome of the elections will affect the waxing and waning of their respective political power. The electoral success of the Blue and Green political parties will indeed have a huge impact on the future of Taiwan. But the impact of election practices on Taiwan's democracy is just as important, if not more important. It too, deserves our close attention.
Local factions dominate Taiwan's electoral politics. Will the results of the recent legislative by-elections result in a change in the rival camps' political fortunes? This deserves closer examination. Under KMT rule, local factions have dominated local elections since the last decade of the previous century. Their influence has even reached the central government level. The greatest impact has been the ascendance of Black Gold electoral politics. The constitution expressly stipulates that "election campaigns may not resort to either threats or bribes." It apparently anticipated money and violence interfering with the election process. This is a vexing political and cultural problem, one that may be difficult to guard against, but which must be overcome.
The Republic of China has undergone two changes in ruling parties. Has Black Gold involvement in the election process really killed off clean politics? What is the extent of underworld involvement in local and central government politics? How much vote-buying is there at the local and central government levels? Some progress has been made in eliminating such influences. But no one is about to express satisfaction with the situation. Black Gold politics is the result of the ruling KMT surrendering to local factions during the previous century. Those who removed the bell from around the cat's neck must put it back. Now that it has regained power during this century, we are of course justified in expecting the KMT to take effective measures. It must prevent local factions from using money and violence to influence the outcome of elections. It must allow the Republic of China to bid farewell to Black Gold politics.
The KMT lost during the recent legislative by-elections in several counties and municipalities. Clearly these losses were related to its refusal to be contaminated by local factions. In the overall development of democracy, winning and losing are fleeting. Upholding justice and standards is forever. The KMT may have lost the elections because it refused to compromise with local factions. But the public applauded its insistence on reforms beneficial to the elimination of Black Gold politics.
The five cities elections are about to begin. This election involves the election of chief executives. Voters are therefore more likely to reject Black Gold politics. The five cities elections will be followed by the legislative elections. Those will be the real litmus test of election reforms on Taiwan. The KMT must stick to its guns. Only then can it rid itself of local factions' negative influence on the central government. KMT election strategists must have the determination to stick to their reforms even if it means defeat at the polls. They must have the wisdom to realize that only by sticking to their guns can they eventually attain victory. Reforms are long overdue. Now is not too late. If it fails to act now however, it may be too late for regrets. It must rally voter support during the four years it is still in power. Corrupt election practices on Taiwan have led to an ineffectual legislature, an unhealthy democracy, and to a vicious cycle of corrupt politics. Only by acting now can the KMT save the day.
Once the KMT makes the decision to part company with local factions, the Democratic Progressive Party will begin to feel the heat. If the KMT refuses to knuckle under, local factions will lose the financial wherewithal to mobilize local connections. They will naturally seek out the KMT's political rivals. Will the DPP adhere to its stated principles? Will it say no to local factions' Black Gold election methods? The answers will determine the future of democracy on Taiwan. The DPP once blasted the KMT's authoritarian Black Gold politics. It rose to power by waving the banner of clean government. But eight years of Chen regime corruption following the first change in ruling parties seriously damaged the DPP's political image.
The Democratic Progressive Party tolerated the Chen Shui-bian family's corruption. Its tolerance for such wrongdoing cannot be blamed on the Chen Shui-bian family alone. How many people in the Green camp were contaminated? How many people refused to be contaminated? It is difficult to give a clear answer. The five cities elections, legislative elections, and presidential election will be held within the next two years. The Democratic Progressive Party wants the voters to return it to power. It has a real chance to do just that. The KMT has deliberately jettisoned local factional politics. Will the DPP embrace such politics, merely for the sake of short term electoral victory? Will it refuse to collude with the criminal underground and its vote-buying practices? The recent legislative by-elections have provided an abundance of alarming clues. Knowledgeable people within the DPP must reclaim the party's soul.
Both the Blue and Green parties must hold their ground. They must not make any concessions to Black Gold factional politics for the sake of short term electoral victories. Only then will democracy on Taiwan have a future.