To Voters Afflicted with Post-Sunflower Distress Disorder
United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
October 22, 2015
Executive Summary: The 2016 general election is less than three months away. Yet voters remain disaffected. One reason is that the blue camp suffered a major setback when the KMT “changed generals before the charge”. But the main reason is that last year's Sunflower Student Movement undermined respect for the government. Many voters are now disillusioned with democracy. It is difficult to whip up enthusiasm among them. This phenomenon is especially prevalent among blue camp supporters, and could be termed “Post-Sunflower Distress Disorder" or “PSDD”.
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The 2016 general election is less than three months away. Yet voters remain disaffected. One reason is that the blue camp suffered a major setback when the KMT “changed generals before the charge”. But the main reason is that last year's Sunflower Student Movement undermined respect for the government. Many voters are now disillusioned with democracy. It is difficult to whip up enthusiasm among them. This phenomenon is especially prevalent among blue camp supporters, and could be termed “Post-Sunflower Distress Disorder" or “PSDD”.
The Sunflower Student Movement had both positive and negative effects on Taiwan. But it has not been subjected to serious review and discussion. Positive effects include increased political participation among young people, increased awareness of the plight and aspirations of the younger generation, and increased awareness of economic inequality and generational injustice. Negative effects include the undermining of democracy and social order by violent street protests, the whitewashing of illegal occupation of public buildings, the sidelining of rational debate, the monopolization of public expression on the Internet, and the bullying of those who dare dissent. Older citizens in particular, those not conversant with the Internet, had their values demeaned and opinions belittled. They have become politically disaffected and withdrawn.
Consider the matter of democratic evolution. Last year, during the Sunflower Student Movement, the political atmosphere on Taiwan was electric. Today, all that remains is apathy. This is definitely not a healthy phenomenon. In any society, reform requires passion. It requires political action exercised within the system. If extremists run amok with impunity, those who value rational debate will withdraw. Few will take part in the election process. The result will be democracy in which the tail wags the dog.
The Sunflower Student Movement cited opposition to the STA as its pretext. Green camp support enabled it to morph into an “anti-[Mainland]China", "anti-Ma" “appendectomy" movement. It even occupied the Legislative Yuan, and with Wang Jin-pyng's assistance, formed an anti-Ma army. Add to the mix blue vs green political wrangling, all of which attacked the soft underbelly of the Ma government. The blue camp's nine in one election debacle last year cowed ruling KMT leaders. They tucked their tails between their legs and did nothing. These factors are likely to lead to the same result in the general election next year.
The Sunflower Student Movement dealt the ruling KMT a severe blow. Yet it does nothing. This is its own fault. This is something it must reflect upon. Meanwhile, many have lost faith in politics in the wake of the Sunflower Student Movement. Some feel intense disgust. These people need reassurance and encouragement. We hope they will resume participation in politics. Only that will prevent democracy on Taiwan from imploding. After all, the backbone of democracy, apart from political parties, is support from independent citizens.
The Sunflower Student Movement has left many disaffected with politics, for three reasons. Reason One. When students occupied the legislature and paralyzed the government, it exposed the weakness of their democratic institutions. Their disillusionment led to disaffectation. Reason Two. Violence in the streets and vituperation on the Internet, reflected predominantly the feelings of the younger generation. The feelings of non-Internet users and older generations have been ignored. More mature, more thoughtful insights have been drowned in a sea of unconsidered opinion. Many can no longer be bothered to speak out. Many cannot not even be bothered to participate in politics. Reason Three. The student movement's violence challenged the values of more conservative members of society. In most democracies, universities are leftist, while the grass-roots are conservative. This is the norm. But the Sunflower Student Movement on Taiwan had too intense a political coloration. It seethed with hatred and indulged in outright provocation. It shook the faith of many in politics, and left them with the sense that political participation is futile.
The most obvious example of this is of course blue camp dejection in the face of the upcoming election. The KMT recently replaced Hung with Chu. Supporters now plan to boycott the election or cast invalid ballots in protest. During last week's plenary session, attendance fell to 60%. Among party representatives from Taipei City, attendance plummeted to 40%. This reflects their alienation from the party. Rumors have emerged over the past two days. Apparently the KMT Central Committee intends to change the rules for non-constituency legislators, to enable Wang Jing-pyn to remain in office. Voters are threatening to cast invalid party vote ballots in protest. These are serious symptoms of Post-Sunflower Distress Disorder that the blue camp must address.
Many blue camp supporters pride themselves on being independent voters. They reserve the right to criticize KMT decisions or repudiate them categorically. Nearly 20 years of voting history show that most blue camp divisions, election boycotts, or casting of invalid ballots in protest, are the result of these same people's actions. Such is the paradox of democracy. From a libertarian perspective, voting as an individual chooses is entirely understandable. The problem is that too many such independent voters have made it impossible to transform and upgrade the KMT. This is deeply regrettable. Even more worrisome, if these independent voters become indifferent, hostile, or even nihilistic, as a result of the student movement, it means disaster for democracy.
If Taiwan's democracy degenerates, the critical factor will not be who represents Taiwan, or who represents the Republic of China. It will be voter indifference or even contempt, for politics.