In a meeting of the Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) Central Standing Committee, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) said that with regard to Taiwan's democratic system, people already rule their own house. But with regard to the deeper meaning and quality of democracy, Taiwan still has much to learn before it can set its house in order. He added that Taiwan still has to establish a society in which power and duty are complimentary, and in which freedom and responsibility coexist.
Chen's statements were a response to a discussion about the crisis of social trust in the government and how it is changing. He emphasized that the ethnic problems and social tensions that exist today are largely the result of past rule by an authoritarian government, and he correctly stated that we should adopt an open-minded and liberal mentality to heal these wounds.
After more than 40 years of political repression, it is true that Taiwanese society lacks an organic system of self-rule through which the community can communicate and resolve conflicts. This is why some intellectuals have in recent years sought to promote community building, social education through community colleges and the discussion of social issues in citizens' conferences.
After March 20, Taiwan was on the verge of splitting apart. Looked at in terms of the presidential election, this means that almost half of the nation's voters lack confidence in the incumbent government. Some probably have no faith in it whatsoever. There are many complex reasons for this lack of trust.
Some are dissatisfied with the political achievements of the DPP and some are dissatisfied with having been pushed from power. But it must be recognized that a large part of this distrust is due to ethnic issues, which take the form of a categorical rejection of the government. As this response is the product of both rational and emotional factors, it will be necessary for Taiwanese society to develop into a more healthy state before we can expect their resolution.
So, as Chen has said, Taiwanese have much to learn if they are to set their house with regard to the deeper meaning and quality of their democracy. Put another way, civic awareness has yet to be fully developed in Taiwan.
At this stage, the government will play an important role in determining whether a civil society can be established, especially given the large segment of the population that has little faith in its rule.
In dealing with people who oppose it for irrational reasons, today's government should not adopt the high standards of a fully developed society in which power and duty are complimentary, and in which freedom and responsibility coexist. By using the judiciary to deal with these opponents -- as it has done on more than one occasion recently -- it is doing just that.
In a fully developed democratic society with the rule of law, the judiciary should be the least controversial channel through which to deal with various conflicts in society. But in a society full of distrust, the law often serves only to intimidate, rather than being a means of finding a resolution.
Some members of the government today continue to use rumors and other tactics beyond the scope of the law to attack opponents. So do members of the opposition parties. These tactics go back to the days of the tangwai (outside the Chinese Nationalist Party [KMT]) movement and the early days when the DPP was in opposition.