Fri, Oct 28, 2005 - Page 8 News List

The path of Taiwan's democracy

By Lee Teng-Hui (李登輝)

Editor's note: This is an edited version of a speech delivered to the National Press Club in Washington on Oct. 21.

Ladies and gentlemen: I am delighted to have the opportunity to come to the United States of America, a country built upon the spirit of democracy and freedom. Several hundred years ago, your forefathers braved dangers to reach a new land. In 1776, they adopted the Declaration of Independence, which provides that all men have certain unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and that governments are formed to secure these rights upon the consent of the governed.

When our ancestors came to Taiwan, they may not have had a Mayflower Compact, but they possessed the same intention of pursuing freedom and happiness. This ideal of the Taiwanese people was gradually realized, step by step, in 1989, the beginning of Taiwan's democratic era.

As with its economic miracle, Taiwan's democratic reforms have been a success story that has won the attention of the world. During the democratization process, I led a KMT [Chinese Nationalist Party] government that listened carefully to the people's demands, to respect the will of mainstream popular opinion and to become the main force for promoting reform. At that time, the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) also advocated reform, and therefore both parties, though competitors, worked together shoulder to shoulder on political reform. Through tenacious efforts, authoritarian rule gradually gave way to the boulevard of democracy. The ethnic tensions that materialized in the 1940s also dissolved under the harmony of democracy.

In the year 2000, Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), the DPP candidate, won the presidential election. However, the victorious DPP government faced the predicament of a legislature controlled by opposition parties and the consequent boycotts of its policies. Furthermore, this inexperienced administration was not tolerant enough, leading to major clashes between political parties and re-igniting ethnic tensions. What is regrettable is that the present ethnic tensions in the new political environment, combined with China's divisive efforts, have worsened into a conflict on national identity. Therefore, I have put forward the idea of the "new-era Taiwanese," which promotes the use of the spirit of democracy to overcome internal disparity.

During the last decade of the 20th century, the tidal "third wave of democratization" that began in the early 1970s swept over Taiwan. We accepted our baptism into this third wave of democratization through a "quiet revolution" without bloodshed, though there were inevitable social tensions and conflicts. Taiwan's democratic experience earned the attention of Professor Samuel P. Huntington, the renowned political scientist.

Yet, as Professor Huntington has noted, some of the countries that were part of the "third wave of democratization" face obstacles, and thus, may not become full democracies.

Where do the threats to Taiwan's democracy come from? There are certain political parties in Taiwan that are anti-democratic. These remnants of the authoritarian era, which are unwilling to give up their vested interests or face the fact that authoritarian rule has crumbled, attempt to baffle the people using ideology in an attempt to usurp the choice of the people. In Taiwan, this anti-democratic force is quite rampant and supported by the Chinese totalitarian regime.

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