Mon, May 30, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Legacies and the people of Taiwan

By Nat Bellocchi 白樂崎

If a voter in Taiwan took a few minutes to ponder the nation's future, what would he or she see? What would he or she think will be the legacy the first two Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administrations could leave by the time of the next presidential election?

The first matter for them would be to understand what is going on now, how much of it is public relations hype meant to give advantage to one side of the political spectrum or another, and how much is realistic.

For Taiwan, the first change in government in 2000 inevitably was a very difficult period of transition. There were clearly and predictably many errors being made. By the end of that first term, there were still many laws from the previous authoritarian government to be changed; there were many outmoded rules and traditions still to be addressed; there was still a reluctance to fully utilize a bureaucracy that with some exception is beginning to work for the nation, not for a party; and still a need to effectively communicate with the people of Taiwan as well as foreign governments.

But there were also positive changes made in this period. The government effectively encouraged a much greater involvement of voters not only through the different political parties but also in the growth of non-governmental organizations and in political, civil as well as cultural matters. Despite the political slogans and media hype from all political sides, ethnic divisions have decreased and there has been a greater consensus on what the people want as Taiwan's identity.

Despite the difficulties experienced by his first administration, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was voted into a second term in March last year. The legislative elections last December, however, resulted in the same conditions of governance as in the first administration -- a split government with the opposition parties forming a majority in the legislature, with a Constitution that gave it more power than the executive branch.

The ruling party, having had problems with the US in using the sensitive differences with China as a major campaign issue, was on its way back to redressing the relationship. Beijing considerably helped that effort by introducing an anti-Taiwan secessionist law that caused an outcry in Taiwan and was opposed by the US.

The opposition parties in Taiwan soon afterward arranged high-level party-to-party meetings in China, which Beijing raised to the highest level with considerable fanfare. While this is important, its political impact in Taiwan is still not clear.

There were no concessions whatsoever by China on any political issues fundamental to the differences between the two sides of the Strait. China made clear it also would not meet with government officials from Taiwan. It agreed to a line of communications between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Taiwan's Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), however. Such an arrangement would not be acceptable in most democracies and can become a matter that could further complicate both cross-strait relations and domestic concerns. In external affairs, China will presumably communicate with the opposition in Taiwan, while the US communicates with the government -- not a comfortable arrangement.

The public debate on cross-strait relations is mainly held among politicians and academics in Taiwan, which other voters must find difficult to understand.

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