Tue, May 23, 2000 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: A question of style

Taiwan's political landscape has gone through a subtle change as the new government takes over power. The power structure seems to have remained the same, but the new government has a very different style from the old one -- as exemplified by the very different list of national policy advisors (國策顧問) and senior presidential advisors (資政).

On the list are many dissidents who suffered persecution during the martial law era. Apart from prominent members of the "tangwai" (黨外) movement, there are also former political prisoners and their family members. Perhaps the most conspicuous among them are writer Bo Yang (柏楊) and Peter Ng (黃文雄), a failed political assassin turned human rights activist. Leading figures from the Taiwan independence movement, including names like Peng Ming-min (彭明敏), Kao Chun-ming (高俊明), Chen Lung-chu (陳隆志), Ku Kuan-min (辜寬敏) Huang Chao-yuan (黃昭淵), Wu Shu-min (吳樹民), Chin Mei-ling (金美齡), Chen Wen-yen (陳文彥), Chen Shao-ting (陳少廷) and Cheng Chin-jen (鄭欽仁) are now on the list of national policy advisors.

Of course, there are also a significant number of business and local faction leaders, as well as academics and professionals. However, the inclusion of former political prisoners and Taiwan independence activists bring an unprecedented mix of colors to the new government.

The list also has a unique kaleidoscopic feature rarely seen in other democracies. There are quite a few senior KMT officials on the list -- at least two former vice presidents, one former premier, a former secretary-general of the presidential office, two members of the KMT Central Standing Committee, plus former government ministers from the KMT.

These positions are basically political arrangements and in practice, the advisors have very little power. In fact, this is a system incompatible with democratic principles, though it is a very convenient one for those in power. It serves to soothe those who lost out in the race for official positions. The posts can also be used as chips in the exchange of political favors. In other words, the system can help stabilize domestic politics. It is no coincidence that both sides of the Taiwan Strait have similar institutions for such advisors.

Style is one of the most salient differences between the new and the old Cabinets. In 1990, many writers and former political prisoners became ministers in Vaclav Havel's new Czech government. Many of them appeared awkward and shy -- not even knowing the appropriate clothes to wear. But those people brought a refreshing vitality to the government.

Similarly, almost no one in Taiwan's new Cabinet knows how to play golf. Many of them do not know how to "wine and dine" or appreciate gourmet food. Some even do not know how to wear ties. In the KMT's official culture, these people would be total misfits. Fortunately, the aristocratic etiquette that developed under the KMT's half-century rule is now going out of fashion.

All the status, arrogance and habits represented by the old government have been replaced by the spirit of the new.

While we do not know how long it will last, we are glad to see a change for once.

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