Taiwan has been hailed as an Asian model for the third global wave of democratization. Indeed, the period of economic growth, transition to democracy and relative peace in cross-strait relations that the nation experienced between 1986 and 2000 earned worldwide recognition as a miraculous historic achievement.
China's military menace and political intimidation couldn't stop the Taiwanese in their resolute march toward a free society. However, after 2000, the democracy movement lost its momentum, stalled and even retreated. What happened?
There are two popular schools of thought. One says that President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) is the problem and that ousting him can save Taiwan. The other school says that the problem is the anti-Chen movement and that supporting him is supporting Taiwan. Both sides trace all of Taiwan's problems back to the pro-Chen and anti-Chen, pro-unification and pro-independence or green versus blue conflicts. Discussions of truth and falsehood, good and bad, all fall by the wayside.
The current clamor over the upcoming Taipei mayoral election and passage of the US arms procurement bill is a case in point. One side says that supporting Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Taipei mayoral candidate Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) means supporting the pan-blue camp, and that People First Party Chairman James Soong's (宋楚瑜) participation only helps the pan-green camp by dividing the pan-blue vote.
The other side says that supporting Democratic Progressive Party candidate Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) means supporting the pan-green camp, leading Taiwan Solidarity Union candidate Clara Chou (周玉蔻) to complain that she is being "besieged by her own family."
But both sides see this year's mayoral election as a primary for the 2008 presidential election. Nobody seems to remember that the nature of the president's job is different from that of a mayor. Chen, for instance, did a good job as Taipei mayor, but has been a poor president.
I wouldn't support Soong to be the president, but he would be better than Hau as Taipei mayor. If one wants what is best for the people of Taipei, then the optimal course for the mayoral election should be to let Soong and Hsieh fully explain their governing philosophy and future plans to the city's residents. After their positions have been assessed, the voters should be left to make their decision freely.
The arms procurement bill is the same. American Institute in Taiwan Director Stephen Young criticized Taiwanese politicians for ignoring the interests of the Taiwanese people and national security while playing with the budget as a political game. It was a piece of friendly advice that hit the nail on the head, but he was attacked by many politicians.
The problem is that the extremist blue and green camps have overtaken the legislature and public opinion, misleading both society and the country. Author Bernard Berelson says in his book Voting that extremist interests follow the extreme biases of parties, which can lead to stubborn fanaticism, and that once this extends into all of society, it can destroy the process of democratization.
Today, Taiwan's democratization is threatened by political extremists of all stripes. The only way to save it is to establish a new political party and seize the historic opportunity presented by the new "single constituency, two votes" electoral system in next years legislative elections to remake the old legislature and pull Taiwan out of its current crisis.
First, Taiwan's outdated political parties are unable to save themselves from the hysterical extremism that they have fallen victim to. Whenever they run into a problem the just go back to the old formula of stirring up pan-green versus pan-blue, independence versus unification passions.
The prospect for self reform looks bleak. Taiwan needs a new political power that transcends partisan interests to save its democracy. A new party with new members and new perspectives could use next year's legislative elections to defeat the antiquated thinking of the current extremist parties.
Second, the new electoral system will halve the number of seats in the legislature. It will be a historic opportunity to give all political parties -- old and new, big and small -- a chance for fair competition.
If a new party puts forward outstanding young professionals capable of representing the voters in various areas, it may be capable of destroying the old clamorous and dysfunctional politicians who under the previous election system were supported by a minority of close-minded extremists.
Third, extremist political parties, legislators and media are the three commonly identified sources of chaos in Taiwanese society. Next year's legislative elections present a golden opportunity to do away with them.
If one says that the re-election of the legislature in 1991 was the first breakthrough in Taiwan's peaceful democratic revolution, then the overhaul of the extremist legislature in next year's election will be another peaceful breakthrough in saving Taiwan's democracy.
Opportunities like these don't come around very often. For all young people who care about Taiwan, the time has come for you to step up on the stage of history and bravely accept this mission to build a new future!
Ruan Ming is a former national policy adviser to the president.
Translated by Marc Langer
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