United Daily News: Taiwan-style democracy worth being proud of?
Central News Agency
2014-05-12 06:16 PM
The student-led occupation of the Legislative Yuan from March 24 to April 10 over the trade-in-services pact with China has provoked dismay among people from all walks of life. The Economist magazine has quipped that Taiwan's future may well be decided on the streets. Tech tycoon Terry Gou has said bluntly that democracy alone does not put food on the table and doesn't help promote GDP growth. There have also been Singaporean entrepreneurs attributing Singapore's economic victory to the absence of democracy in the city-state. How did Taiwan's democracy come to this? The major problem is that Taiwanese society has been extraordinarily proud of its "pro forma" democracy. While democracy is a means of political participation, society at large has mistaken it for an end in and of itself. People have ignored the fact that democratic politics, like economic development, requires transformation and upgrade. Of course democracy alone cannot feed a person; what it offers is the creation and distribution of work opportunities. The protesters have been demanding equal employment opportunities, while Gou is concerned that their opposition to the cross-strait services pact and fourth nuclear power plant will leave Taiwan with "no rice to eat." In other words, Taiwan's problem is in its inefficient political system and imbalance of job creation and distribution. The absence of economic growth in recent years has awakened Taiwan to the necessity of industrial transformation, yet the public has yet to acknowledge the necessity of political transformation. This is a blind spot that makes it difficult to improve the quality of local politics. The failure to enhance that quality can be examined on three levels: First, unresolved national identity. Taiwan's democratization is rooted in ethnic conflicts and national identity crises. Over the past 30 years, Taiwan has achieved great progress in democratization, but with the rise of China's economy and the decline of Taiwan's, disputes over national identity have become increasingly narrowly focused. The recent student protest against the services pact were mainly driven by the issues of cross-strait relations and antipathy toward China. The opposition Democratic Progressive Party's opportunistic Chinese policy which deliberately links opposing the Ma administration to opposing China has only helped stoke the flames. The second factor is weakness in personal character, capacity and experience among politicians in both ruling and opposition parties. Taiwan's post-60s and 70s economic miracle was due largely to population growth and the surplus of skilled workers when the central government moved from Nanjing to Taipei in 1949. But the development of democratization and localization that followed has brought populism as a result of anti-elitist tendencies, leaving many talented people reluctant to enter politics. Lastly, civil society has essentially become isolated. The quality of a democracy is largely dependent upon the character of its citizens, and over the years, the personal character of the Taiwanese people has only improved. But many moderate citizens chose to keep invisible or silent to avoid being given a political label amid the fierce fighting between the government and opposition. As a result, there has been a lack of objective, neutral and professional voices on public issues in favor of middling populist rhetoric. Political pressure means many are forced to be silent and those who are neutral and reserved are forced to takes sides. To some extent, this trend could be considered contrary to democratic principles. The implementation of democracy has made Taiwan lose some degree of administrative efficiency, a price that all people have to pay. If national policymaking is predominated by electoral considerations, then representative politics and a pluralistic society will be at the mercy of a minority. It would be absurd to boast about this as a "Taiwanese-style democracy" to be proud of. (Editorial abstract -- May 12, 2014) (By Evelyn Kao)
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