Can the Legislative Yuan Show Chen Guangcheng the Virtues of Democracy?
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
June 25, 2013
Summary: Mainland Chinese human rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng is currently
visiting Taiwan. He said he wanted to experience the "virtues of
democracy" on Taiwan. He will deliver a speech today in the Legislative
Yuan. Chen Guangcheng may witness name-calling and physical violence
during the extraordinary legislative session. If he does, he must
understand that these are part and parcel of the "virtues of democracy"
Full Text below:
Mainland Chinese human rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng is currently visiting Taiwan. He said he wanted to experience the "virtues of democracy" on Taiwan. He will deliver a speech today in the Legislative Yuan. Chen Guangcheng may witness name-calling and physical violence during the extraordinary legislative session. If he does, he must understand that these are part and parcel of the "virtues of democracy" on Taiwan.
People arriving from a totalitarian state are envious of democratically-elected legislatures and the right to dissent. The public on Taiwan once felt the same way. But 20 years later, the public on Taiwan wants answers to a number of questions. For example, can a democratically-elected legislature ensure the rule of law that the era we inhabit requires? Will dissent prevail to the extent that society loses its ability to reach consensus? Will the nation grind to a halt as a consequence? If so, what then? Chen Guangcheng may be able to ask these questions in the legislature today. He may be able to ask why legislators cannot settle down and review bills during regular sessions. Why must they call for extraordinary sessions? Why must the legislative process be dragged out even then?
The extaordinary legislative session is about to adjourn. The ruling party initally sought passage of the capital gains tax, 12 year compulsory education, public bonds, and the referendum on the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant. But the opposition DPP was unhappy with the cross-Strait GATS agreement. This could impact the third reading. The bills may not be resolved until a second extraordinary session is called. The slightest dissatisfaction can impact the passage any bill. The slightest mood swing can lead to yet another round of ruling vs. opposition party confrontation, This has been commonplace for years. Anything that can be put off and delayed, will be. Nothing is ever dealt with on its own merits. In principle, democracy involves "checks and balances." But on Taiwan, all we have are checks, and no balances.
Checks differ from balances. Several examples underscore the difference. Recently the private sector expressed doubts about the GATS agreement. Before that, opposition legislators never gave the matter a second thought. They devoted all their energy to obstructing the establishment of cross-Strait representative offices. They even occupied the Legislative Chamber and held a slumber party. But as soon as some in the private sector began grumbling about the GATS agreement, ruing and opposition party legislators immediately latched on to this new political football. The establishment of cross-Strait representative offices suddenly became yesterday's news. And so it was for 12 year compulsory education. The DPP initially demanded a "wealthy exclusion" clause. But once the Executive Yuan heeded outside recommendations and agreed to incorporate a wealthy exclusion clause, the opposition DPP immediately adopted precisely the opposite position. It then began accusing the Ma government of acting in bad faith.
Simply put, "checks" is nothing more than proclaiming one's opposition and engaging in irrational obstructionism. By contrast, "balances" obligates one to offer alternatives. It calls for a third way that transcends differences. If democracy involves only "checks," and no "balances," politics will inevitably proceed down a blind alley. People will lose their faith in democracy and its values.
Take the referendum on the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant. The public has been arguing over whether to complete or to halt construction on the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant for years. The ruling party has a responsibility to finish building the plant. But it also faces powerful public opposition to nuclear power generation. Under the circumstances, a referendum is probably the only solution to the problem. The DPP halted then resumed construction on the plant, incurring tens of billions of dollars in additional costs. Now that the nuclear power plant has been completed, the DPP has once again adopted an anti-nuclear stance. What's even more astonishing, it now vehemently opposes any referendum on the plant. It opposes the plant, but simultaneously refuses to allow the public to express its views on the plant by means of a public referendum. Under these circumstances, how can any resolution be reached on the plant controversy?
The Legislature lacks any sense of responsibility for problem solving. The Executive, meanwhile, is inept at both communication and coordination. These are additional reasons why Taiwan's democracy has fallen and cannot get up. Take negotiations between Taipei and Manila over the fishing vessel shooting incident. Premier Chiang embarrassed Foreign Minister Lin Yong-le. This was followed by controversy over the accounting law bill. President Ma put the Executive Yuan on the spot. Controversy raged over the "wealthy exclusion" clause in the 12 year compulsory education bill. This led to the Premier giving Education Minister Chian Wei-ning a slap in the face. Every one of these events leave one flabbergasted. Policy can be changed. Policy can be modified. But the government must improve internal communications. It must coordinate with the legislature. This will prevent higher level authorities from pulling the rug out from under lower level authorities. This will prevent the executive branch from singing a different tune than the legislative branch.
Frankly, many no longer care what bill the extraordinary session of legislature passes today. People no longer expect any professionalism or sense of mission from legislators. Ruling and opposition party legislators pretend to engage in consultations. Legislative caucuses issue this or that level mobilization order. In reality, they are merely furthering their personal or partisan interests in the name of democracy. Who really believes that these legislators are actually concerned about the public on Taiwan?
If Chen Guangcheng sees only these political calculations and this sort of coarse behavior in the Legislative Yuan, he must not be too disappointed. After all, they are merely isolated facets of Taiwan's political system. The virtues of Taiwan's democracy are not imaginary. One must evaluate all of its aspects, large and small. Chen Guangchen is smart. He should have no difficulty understanding the complexities.
2013.06.25 01:56 am