Tue, Feb 18, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Party antagonism a drag on reform

By Lii Ding-Tzann 李丁讚

In recent months, much noise has suddenly been made about social and political reform.

In the 1980s and 1990s, calls for reform were made nonstop. From media reports to street demonstrations, social reform seemed to underpin the hopes and deeds of everyone everywhere. Even though reformists were repeatedly oppressed or threatened, they continued to march forward bravely and endured hardships gladly. That was indeed an era of idealism. People had hopes and dreams, and they turned their hopes and dreams into actions for one purpose only -- to make Taiwan better.

Over the past year or two, however, people seem to have lost interest in reform -- or even gone against it. From the reform of education and grassroots financial associations to those of Taipei City's borough administration system and the media, voices of objection can frequently be heard.

Some of the voices are those of people with vested interests, which is understandable and legitimate since their interests are threatened. What's baffling, however, is that many of the voices are those of so-called intellectuals, or even of certain greatly respected, erstwhile reform activists. Why have these people suddenly become anti-reformist in the space of a few short years?

There has to be a social basis for reform. No reform in a democratic society can succeed without the most basic social consensus and support. The success of the reforms of the 1980s and the 1990s was a result of the social consensus at that time. Today's situation is very different, because almost all reform measures have been politicized.

Take educational reform. It was clearly launched before the DPP came to power. But it was immediately labeled part and party to DPP policy after the party came to power. From the opposition parties' perspective, their objection to the policy was originally rational and necessary because it would make the policy more complete. After all, political antagonism is the essence of democratic politics.

The problem is that in this country there is neither a neutral public sphere nor a neutral public opinion. From the media to intellectuals to the general public, we are used to identifying ourselves with political parties and ideologies. We then duplicate antagonism among parties, instead of overcoming it.

Almost all Taiwanese, including the intellectuals, are incapable of stamping out the feud among parties and ideologies. They have failed to objectively judge and evaluate our public policies.

In fact, there was no less political antagonism in the 1980s and the 1990s than there is today. But, as I said, political antagonism is the essence of democratic politics. What is more important is whether our society can transcend politics. No social consensus can be formed if public opinion cannot transcend inter-party feuds. Once this social consensus is lost, all reforms become difficult, indeed, doomed to failure. This is precisely the structural difficulty facing reform.

In addition to this major structural factor, certain minor problems have also occurred in connection with political and social reform. Put simply, these are the problems of elitism and of systems. Most reformists have an elitist attitude, believing that reform simply means stipulating new laws or establishing new systems and organizations. They almost completely ignore the willingness or cooperation of those involved in reform.

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