Taiwan's Democracy Can No Longer Rest on Its Laurels
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
July 2, 2013
Summary: Take the Chang An-lo incident. The Blue and Green camps neutralized each other. The end result was "black plus red" becoming the consensus for both sides. How sad is that? Take the student protests against Hau Pei-tsun. Democracy remains mired in memories of persecution from 20 years ago. What are these, but signs that Taiwan's democracy has atrophied? If people do not extricate themselves from this democratic nihilism, how many more years can Taiwan's capital last?
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Chang An-lo, aka the "White Wolf," a wanted man who has been hiding on the Mainland for 17 years, has just returned to Taiwan and turned himself in to the authorities. The airport was crammed with thousands of people brandishing "Peaceful Reunification" banners. They even arranged a ceremonial lion dance to welcome him home. On the same day, former Premier Hau Pei-tsun delivered a speech at National Taiwan University. A dozen or so students waved protests signs, condemning him for his past repression of democracy.
Such protests have become commonplace. The public no longer considers them noteworthy. But look more closely. Contrast the Chang An-lo welcome and the Hao Pe-tsun protest, both of which took place on the same day. They underscore the astonishing diversity Taiwan's democracy. But they also underscore the disintegration of society's core values.
First take the welcome accorded the "White Wolf." He used the "China Unification Party" as cover for his criminal triad. He used the banner of "peaceful reunification and one country, two systems" to ingratiate himself with the Mainland authorities. The White Wolf's antics are perhaps the most surreal of all since the lifting of martial law on Taiwan. Especially noteworthy is Chang An-lo's triad background. Both the Blue and Green camp have been wary of his Red camp political leanings. His "black and red" political coloration stands out on Taiwan's political spectrum. This is precisely why he was not extradited 17 years after he fled. This is why his high-profile return, surrender, and immediate release on bail was so startling.
Now take the protests held against Hau Pei-tsun. In 1990, students initiated an "oppose military intervention in government" campaign. Thirty years later, some students are still waving "authoritarian injustice" protest signs, even though Hau long ago departed the political scene. One cannot help but experience a sense of "This evening, such an evening" chronological disorientation. It is not that students should not protest. It is merely that the wheels of democracy on Taiwan have continued turning over the past 20 years. These children were not even born when students first waved banners bearing identical slogans. Does this generation of young people really have no grievances of their own? Are they really so lacking in original thought that they can only parrot their elders' indignation? Is Taiwan's democracy really trapped in limbo, spinning its wheels?
Control Yuan President Wang Chien-hsuan spoke out that same day. He said that ever since direct presidential elections were initiated on Taiwan 25 years ago, we have been "eating our seed corn," i.e., "resting on our laurels." His choice of the 25 year mark since direct presidential elections may be problematic. But "resting on our laurels" was accurate and brutal. It sums up many peoples' feelings about Taiwan's political and economic decline. In recent years, everyone has sensed that Taiwan is in decline. We have undergone two changes in ruling parties. This has enabled people to see that the root of the problem is not with any particular political party or any particular individual, but with Taiwan's political system, with the utter debasement of its economic structure and its core values. This is the most horrific aspect of the problem. If Taiwan cannot find its way back, its weakened democratic structure may soon consume all its political and economic capital.
Chang An-lo's high-profile return reveals Blue vs. Green politics and democracy for what it is -- empty bluster. The college students' protests against Hau Pei-tsun merely underscore how Taiwan's democracy has discovered nothing new or meaningful for over two decades. Everyday Blue and Green legislators openly engage in pushing and shouting matches. Every year they convene extraordinary sessions to clear out all the bills still pending. Ruling and opposition party whips meet in smoke-filled rooms to negotiate all manner of under the table deals. These scenarios flagrantly consume our democratic capital. Administrative agencies are no exception. Every day, in order to appease the public, they offer "free benefits." But they have no idea how to communcate and coordinate before reaching final decisions. They have no idea how to brainstorm decisions to ensure effective policies. As a consequence, their underlings can only mutter under their breath, unable to persuade their superiors to change their thinking. How can this not consume Taiwan's democratic capital?
The government has become sluggish. The worst delusion of Taiwan's democracy is relativistic thinking. One person makes a suggestion. Another person immediately repudidates it. Once the different views have been made public, the two sides rehash the issue. Sometimes a third or fourth party chimes in. Together, they seek a broader consensus. But this is precisely why people lose sight of the bigger picture, and find it impossible to reach a consensus on the larger issues. Finally, this is a society that has been ripped apart by Blue vs. Green partisan conflict. It is doomed to obssess over a handful of trivialities, and incapable of upgrading itself.
Take the Chang An-lo incident. The Blue and Green camps neutralized each other. The end result was "black plus red" becoming the consensus for both sides. How sad is that? Take the student protests against Hau Pei-tsun. Democracy remains mired in memories of persecution from 20 years ago. It has failed to raise new concerns, such as the crowds who rioted over free Kingbus tickets worth a mere 100 NTD. What are these, but signs that Taiwan's democracy has atrophied?
If people do not extricate themselves from this democratic nihilism, how many more years can Taiwan's capital last?
2013.07.02 01:53 am