Monday, June 7, 2010

The Same Tired Rhetoric: Politics on Taiwan Spins Its Wheels

The Same Tired Rhetoric: Politics on Taiwan Spins Its Wheels
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
June 7, 2010

Political discourse on Taiwan has been plagued by the same tired rhetoric, repeated ad infinitum. Recently the situation has gotten worse. The level of political discourse has actually regressed. This warrants close consideration -- even alarm. First, the DPP announced their mayoral candidates for the five directly administered municipalities. Their slogan was "the second siege of the cities from the countryside." This was followed by a speech by Tsai Ing-wen, in which she said "the Republic of China is a government in exile," igniting intense controversy.

Slogans such as "besiege the cities from the countryside," and "government in exile" are fighting words. For some they may well inflame passions. For others they may cause anxiety and unease. What is most noteworthy about these slogans however, is not that they are so provocative, but that they are so stale and petty parochial. Two changes in ruling parties have taken place. Yet certain political parties still invoke them in an effort to incite voter sentiments. These slogans actually elicited a positive response. What does that tell us, if not that democracy on Taiwan has regressed?

The DPP first shouted the slogan "besiege the cities from the countryside" twenty years ago. Ten years it succeeded in "transforming the blue sky into the green earth." Ten years ago, it successfully effected a change in ruling parties at the central government level. Yet Tsai Ing-wen is singing a "besiege the city" marching song. She seems to be attempting to blank out eight years of unbridled Chen regime corruption and incompetence, in order to allow the DPP to make a comeback. The problem is that over the past twenty years politics on Taiwan has changed. It has undergone repeated ups and downs. Once society was filled with hope as it looked forward to democratic reforms. Today society finds itself mired in "ethnic" (communal) schisms and political and economic debacles. Society today has a totally different face. Society today has a totally different atmosphere. The Green Camp is now trotting out its old slogans. But besides provoking public frustration with democracy's problems, what sort of vision and inspiration can it offer for the future?

Even more shocking was Tsai Ing-wen's "government in exile" rhetoric. It was even more reactionary and retrograde than Lee Teng-hui's 1994 rhetoric about "alien regimes." It inadvertently revealed the fundamental thinking in her heart of hearts. Tsai Ing-wen was once seen as a rational and clear-headed leader. Her rise to the leadership of the DPP was viewed as a positive development. But ever since she revealed her hidden side, the public has become skeptical about her true character.

Rhetoric about so-called "alien regimes" or "governments in exile" maliciously incite social divisions. Worse still, they are fundamental betrayals of moral and political responsibility. Tsai Ing-wen was the chief policymaker behind the "avoid haste, be patient" and "closed door" policies. Does she feel no responsibility whatsoever for her "government in exile" rhetoric? Last year Chen Shui-bian took advantage of his status as a former Republic of China "president in exile" to go crying to Washington, raising both eyebrows and doubts about his sanity. Tsai Ing-wen openly abetted Ah-Bian's "government in exile" rhetoric. Just where does she hope to lead the DPP? Just where does she intend to push the ROC?

In fact the regression of political discourse on Taiwan did not begin this year. Symptoms of regression have been apparent for years. They have merely been drowned out by raucous political mobilization and overshadowed by facile political sophistry. One might say this exemplifies the degeneration of political thought and practice on Taiwan.

Take the death penalty controversy for example. It was the result of bipartisan "cooperation." Over the years, both blue and green administrations have taken a highly technical approach toward the abolition of the death penalty. The judicial, legislative and executive branches have made no effort to seek fundamental solutions rooted in the law. Only the Ministry of Justice made a half-hearted effort to abolish the death penalty through "non-implementation." Even the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty has made no effort to abolish the death on the basis of humanitarianism, or to convert the public on the basis of human rights. All it does is stubbornly delay the execution of death row inmates by demanding constitutional interpretations, in order to maintain Taiwan's "human rights image." Once such superficial efforts run up against public opinion, the cover provided by the judiciary is immediately blown.

Why does democracy on Taiwan continue to spin its wheels? For three main reasons. One. The Green Camp refuses to forsake its expedient strategy of inciting of "ethnic" (communal) animosities. This ensures that politics will continue to incite hatred and confrontation, rather than foster equality, freedom, and empathy. Two. The Blue Camp worships at the altar of pragmatism. It is adept at muddying the political waters, but terrified of debating higher principles. It has never been able to clarify the issues or assuage Green Camp doubts. Instead it has repeatedly danced to the Green Camp's tune, and repeatedly returned society to its starting point. Three. The meaning of democracy has been distorted. Democracy on Taiwan has been reduced to mere electioneering. After each election everyone immediately begins planning for the next round of competition. Implementation of policies and serving the public are lost amidst the smell of cordite.

Over the past twenty years, the public on Taiwan has endured painful democratic changes. They have listened to countless moving political slogans. They have participated in one town hall meeting after another, and one street protest after another. In the end, their reward has been anguish at seeing their society torn apart, frustration at witnessing their political leaders blowing hot and cold, and dismay at the realization that their vaunted democracy is going nowhere. After two changes in ruling parties, being forced to listen to politicians shouting the same tired old slogans truly is depressing.

2010.06.08 02:21 am










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