Thu, Oct 13, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Chen needs to regain the political initiative

By Liu Kuan-teh 劉冠德

In his National Day address, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) pledged to accomplish six priority reforms in the remainder of his second term.

These include completing the "constitutional reengineering" project and second-phase financial reforms, reinventing a tax system that will uphold social justice, reforming preferential interest rates, returning properties inappropriately seized and reforming media culture.

Chen also called for more order in the politics of this fast-developing society. The concept is drawn from US political scientist Samuel Huntington's classic Political Order in Changing Societies.

The key finding in Huntingdon's studies on countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America shows an essential need for political authority in a changing society to develop timely institutions that can cope with rapid social change and the mobilization of new groups into politics. He argues that a decline in political order, undermined the authority, effectiveness and legitimacy of governments in those countries.

Most importantly, there was a lack of civic morale and public spirit and a shortage of institutions capable of giving meaning and direction to the public interest. Under those circumstances, political decay, not development, dominated the scene.

In Taiwan, the nature and structure of the political order determines whether democratic progress can be realized and promoted. Taiwan was lucky enough not to encounter the same magnitude of disorder, such as military coups, massacres and the resurrection of authoritarian regimes, as other countries.

However, recent discussion on whether the government has become degraded and is now walking the same path as its predecessor has led to a desire for reexamination within the party and the government itself. The question is whether Taiwan will follow the path of political decay.

It is true that the degree of social mobilization and the expansion of political participation has been considerable, especially since democratization. Nevertheless, the rates of political organization and institutionalization remain low, even after the first-ever transfer of power in 2000. Even though the reform-minded Chen has taken over the presidency, "black gold" money politics and inefficiency have remained major concerns.

The pan-blue camp's enduring and irrational boycott of government policy is a major obstacle -- but Chen's administration must take the blame.

Social mobilization and the hopes raised by the transfer of power elevated the public's expectations. The inability of the DPP government to break through the remnants of the authoritarian system to implement structural reform has also impeded the realization of economic, social and cultural change.

The gap between the high degree of political mobilization and the inability to institutionalize new democratic systems, as well as the inability to rebuild economic competitiveness on new foundations, has bred frustration and. This has fueled a decline in the Chen administration's popularity rating. In this context, the only solution for Chen is to regain the initiative in setting the agenda and issue a viable blueprint for the revitalization of Taiwan's democracy for the next two-and-a-half years.

The implementation of the six priority reforms is essential, but it must be accompanied by aggressive action and firm self-discipline. As Chen has emphasized, the government must set an example to introduce clean politics while preventing the return of corrupt relationships between politicians and business.

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