If This Continues, Taiwan's Democracy Will Have Nothing Left to Boast About
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
May 12, 2014
Summary: When Taiwan implemented democracy, it lost some degree of efficiency. This was a price everyone had to pay. But if national policy remains forever subject to short-sighted election pressures, then representative politics and a pluralistic society will forever be at the mercy of a minority able to dominate the system. When we persist in boasting about our "Taiwanese style democracy," are we not guilty of willful blindness?
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The Sunflower Student Movement provoked dismay among Taiwan democracy watchers. The Economist lamented that Taiwan's future could well be decided in its streets. Terry Gou reminded everyone that "One cannot eat democracy. Democracy does nothing for the GDP." Singaporean entrepreneurs sympathetic to Taiwan's plight underscored the fact that Singapore "succeeded in the absence of democracy." Just how did Taiwan's democracy end up in today's mess?
Carefully analysis shows us that the problem bedeviling democracy on Taiwan is not the reaction of the mobs in the streets. Nor is it Terry Gou's complaint about "too much democracy." The real problem is that Taiwanese society has been inordinately proud of its "pro forma democracy." Democracy is merely a means of political participation. Taiwanese society however,k has confused it with the end. It has forgotten that democracy, like economic development, requires transformation and upgrading. For proof, take a look at the newly reconvened legislature. Opposition legislators have resumed their brute force occupation, obstructionism, and verbal abuse. They show no shame or remorse for their brute force occupation of the legislative hall. Meanwhile, in response to ubiquitous mass movements, the Ma administration has done nothing but make irrelevant personnel changes. It too remains oblivous to the real problem.
One cannot of course eat democracy. Democracy is a means of solving rice production and job allocations. What the mobs on the street demand is fairness in job allocations. What concerns Terry Gou is mob opposition to the STA, the NPP4, and economic liberalization. Such opposition means Taiwan will eventually have no rice to eat. In other words, Taiwan's problem is that its political framework no longer works. It can no longer balance production and distribution. As a result, people feel compelled to take to the streets and protest, while industrialists wring their hands in despair.
The absence of economic growth and economic breakthroughs has forced Taiwan to acknowledge the necessity of industrial restructuring. But people have yet to acknowledge the necessity of political transformation and upgrading. Many persist in boasting about Taiwan's democracy. They see it as a point of pride in East Asian and ethnic Chinese circles. This complacent "Ah Q" attitude has blinded Taiwan to the defects in its democracy. This blind spot makes it difficult to improve the standard of Taiwan's politics.
A review of Taiwan's democratization could solve many of its problems. But many other problems have never been fully addressed. Over time, their negative effects have accumulated and spread, making improvements impossible. This problem can be examined on three levels.
First, there is the problem of unresolved national identity. Taiwan's democratization is rooted in emotionally sensitive "ethnic" (social group) conflicts and national identity conflicts. Over the past 30 years, democratic elections, constitutional government, and deregulation have resulted in ruling party changes, freedom of speech,and the dissolution of "ethnic barriers" (social group barriers). But with the rise of Mainland economic power and its decline on Taiwan, problems with national identity have become increasingly acute The recent dispute over STA revolved around cross-Strait relations, from beginning to end. Cross-Strait relations has also been at the root of the student movement's antipathy toward Mainland China. The DPP's opportunistic Mainland policy is deliberately linked to opposition to Ma, to hatred of the Mainland, and to the incitement of social prejudices.
Second, ruling and opposition party politicians are deficient in both personal character and technical expertise. Taiwan's post-60s and 70s economic miracle was due largely to a windfall profit in human capital. This human capital was brought to Taiwan when the central government moved from Nanking to Taipei. Democratization, localization, and populism has resulted in anti-elitist tendencies, making many people of talent reluctant to join the government or work with political parties, The democratic process has contributed to a perverse, anti-Darwinian, "elimination of the fittest." All it takes is one look at the crude and irrational politics of the ruling and opposition legislators. Focusing exclusively on redistricting and halving the number of legislators did not improve the quality of our democracy in the slightest.
Third, civil society is subject to divisions and pressures. The quality of a democracy is largely dependent upon the character of its citizens. In recent years, the character of citizens on Taiwan has improved. But cut-throat battles between the Blue and Green camps have forced many moderates to remain invisible or silent. They wish to avoid political labels. Over time, this has resulted in a lack of objectivity, a lack o fneutrality, and a lack of professionalism on public issues. Populist rhetoric has led to the triumph of mediocrity. Political pressures have forced many dissenters into silence. They force people who are neutral or who have reservations to choose sides. In many ways, what we have runs counter to democracy. Unfortunately a growing number of social movements on Taiwan are indifferent to morality and ethics. Some "citizens groups" have even become vassals of political parties and forfeited their independence.
When Taiwan implemented democracy, it lost some degree of efficiency. This was a price everyone had to pay. But if national policy remains forever subject to short-sighted election pressures, then representative politics and a pluralistic society will forever be at the mercy of a minority able to dominate the system. When we persist in boasting about our "Taiwanese style democracy," are we not guilty of willful blindness?
2014.05.12 02:04 am