Wed, Aug 02, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Divisions threaten Taiwan's democracy

By Margot Chen 陳麗菊

Following their appeal for President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to step down on July 15, a group of pan-green academics recently issued a second signature drive calling for a review of the competence of political leaders and urging the public to enrich Taiwanese identity with democratic values. They asked us all to consider the starting point for building the nation's democracy and identity.

Leaving aside the issue of whether or not the criticism is warranted, these statements reflect a predicament: Because of the national identity issue, it is difficult to expand and consolidate Taiwan's democracy. Instead, democracy has stagnated at the formal level, unable to move past the holding of elections.

Differences in national identification between pro-localization and pro-China forces have led to a battle in the areas of politics, economics and national security. The unwillingness of either side to compromise not only hurts the national interest, but also threatens to diminish the hard-won democratic achievements that have followed on from the end of the authoritarian era.

In fact, Wu Nai-teh (吳乃德), one of the organizers of the campaign and an Academia Sinica research fellow, said 10 years ago that the national identity problem would pose a threat to Taiwan's democracy for a number of reasons.

First, conflicting national identities would make it impossible to discuss public policy rationally. Toeing a pro-China political line, the pan-blue camp ignores Taiwan's national defense and security needs, and wields its legislative majority to block the passage of the arms procurement budget, thereby changing the democratic principle of majority rule into "violence of the majority," and crippling Taiwan's democracy.

Second, it results in a lack of a public consensus that is indispensable to the operations of democratic governments. This becomes particularly accentuated when we are dealing with political and economic issues related to China.

At the Conference on Sustaining Taiwan's Economic Development, for example, pro-China political and business organizations ignored economic security and the needs of middle and lower-class blue-collar workers, and demanded that the government open up direct transportation links and lift the restriction blocking any firm from investing more than 40 percent of its net value in China.

In addition, the pro-China media exaggerated the urgency of direct transportation links and demanded that the government implement a policy of active opening toward China. Worse, the pro-China parties have traveled to Beijing to discuss cooperation on economic, trade and agricultural issues, completely ignoring the popularly elected government.

Third, the conflict over national identity will result in the country having two sets of political leaders, with neither group able to win the trust of the entire populace.

More Taiwanese have come to realize that they are the true masters of the nation, that Taiwan does not belong to China and that we have the right to decide our future. Therefore, we can no longer put our trust in any regime that leans toward China.

As a result of the national identity problem, consolidating democracy is more complicated in Taiwan than in most other nations. Attempts to consider other solutions for Taiwan's democracy and to decide where we should start to build a national identity should begin by putting an end to pro-China forces and those who harbor the Greater China dream. If we don't, it is certain to lead to a weaker democracy.

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