Sat, Sep 03, 2005 - Page 8 News List

China lacks Taiwan's democracy

By Chen Ching-chih 陳清池

Chiang had won power through the barrel of a gun in the late 1920s even though the territory under his rule was only about a quarter of what China is today. Not having come to power by the will of the people, the KMT party state was thus unable to move away form the Chinese authoritarian tradition.

Having lost the Chinese civil war to the Mao-led CCP in 1949, Chiang and his followers ended up in exile in Taiwan. The people of Taiwan elected neither Chiang nor his son and successor, Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國). The two Chiangs had paid lip service to popular sovereignty. Both of them, however, were nominated by the KMT, the ruling and only meaningful political party in Taiwan, and consequently their elections by the rubber-stamp National Assembly were automatic.

It was only due to changing political situations in the 1980s, particularly by the efforts of Taiwanese pro-democracy activists and US pressures, that the KMT ultimately had to yield power in the late 1980s. Chiang Ching-kuo wisely tolerated the formation of an opposition party in 1986, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and in 1987 lifted the Martial Law that had been in existence since the early 1950s.

Today in Taiwan, the people directly elect all representative officials from township heads to the president. Two presidents have been elected this way. The election of Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) in 2000 and then again last year are of particular significance because voters rejected the KMT candidates that made up the ruling party of Taiwan for over half a century.

That popular sovereignty is embraced in Taiwan cannot be questioned. According to New York University law professor Chen Lung-chih (陳隆志), with the direct election of the president since 1996, Taiwan is now a new sovereign and independent nation. Chen Lung-chih referred to the institution of direct election of the president in Taiwan as "effective self-determination" at the annual meeting of the North American Taiwanese Professors' Association at Salt Lake City late last July.

In this new nation Taiwan, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion and freedom of assembly and more are guaranteed. Taiwan is no longer the party-state it was under the two Chiangs. The island nation has a multiparty political system institutionalized in a pluralistic society. Unison in thought is not encouraged like it was during the KMT era; Taiwanese spoken languages other than Mandarin are now also offered at school. Human rights and human dignity are generally respected.

As a result, for the last decade or so the US-based Freedom House has ranked Taiwan as one of the three freest nations in Asia, while China is ranked as one of the least free. Taiwan's successful democracy is seen by China as "a monster," Kuhn said.

It is crystal clear that the difference between Taiwan's political culture and that in China is like day and night. Not only do the people of Taiwan value their freedom and democracy, but they should also be able to expect the freedom-loving people of the world to support their aspiration to remain free and independent.

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