Sat, Mar 20, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: A shameful day for a democracy

How on earth did we get here? After 16 years of peaceful political transformation how did we get to the stage where President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), one of the region's foremost liberal democrats, could be shot in the street? The perpetrators of yesterday's assassination attempt on the president and Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) must be found, and eventually we will learn what their motives were. Until that happens there are a few things to note.

First, the government deserves credit for its handling of the situation. It must have been tempting to call off the election, given yesterday's events. But this would only further increase the pressure cooker-like atmosphere that has been building up in the last few days, making more violence possible if not inevitable. When bullets start flying it is as well to get people off the streets as quickly as possible. Going ahead with the election was the best way to do this.

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was also wise to call off its campaigning for last night. With Chen and Lu in hospital, it might have seemed to have little choice. But the party could have fielded any number of major figures, including respected figures not in themselves politicians such has Nobel Laureate Lee Yuan-tseh (李遠哲), to speak out against political violence. The problem was that amid the shock and anger pervading yesterday evening that message might have had exactly the opposite result. A rioting, 500,000-strong mob sweeping down on Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) headquarters in Taipei might have been understandable but it would be no more edifying a display of those values that Taiwan wishes to be known for than were the shots that rang out in Tainan yesterday afternoon.

The plan-blue campaign followed suit, for continuing to campaign while Chen and Lu lay in hospital would have been a solecism too far for the nation's voters.

So far, so responsible. But there were less edifying aspects in some reactions as well. Some pan-blues were quick to try to paint the act as something performed by the DPP in desperation to try to win on a sympathy vote. This was not only as contemptible as anything we have got used to expecting from the pan-blues but it was also amazingly stupid. As the pan-blues, those masters of political deception, know, if you want to create an incident you have a man waving a gun shooting into nowhere. You do not shoot your leader in the stomach.

The irony of yesterday's events is perhaps to show that the ultimate danger to Taiwan is not, pace Chen, China's 500 missiles. Rather it is the vicious political climate in which bitter antagonism has become the norm, with extremism, and extremist violence, the inevitable result.

It is not unjust to accuse one political faction of exacerbating this atmosphere more than another; it is simply a statement of fact. The pan-blues have never been able to accept losing the 2000 election and losing power; they have been deliberately obstructive toward measures necessary for the health of the country, for no other reason than that they refuse to work with the DPP. They have not merely criticized the DPP and government as any opposition worth its salt has to do, but they have become masters of the libelous slur, often sexual in nature, against which an inadequate legal system gives no protection.

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