Tue, Jan 09, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Opposition obstructs democracy

By Chou Yung-hong 周永鴻

During a meeting with the press last Tuesday at the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) headquarters, KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) indicated that the party should modify its stance on the handling of its "assets," cooperate with the pan-green camp on certain issues and not block government bills merely for the sake of opposition. The news has brought a mixed response from the public, drawing approval from some and inspiring conspiracy theories among others.

Whatever Ma's motive may be, it's still too early to deny the sincerity of his change of heart. Regrettably, it took the KMT six years to realize that, as Ma said: "Although the KMT and the Democratic Progressive Party [DPP] are far apart, they are not as far apart as the KMT is from the Chinese Communist Party. The pan-green and pan-blue camps are in the same boat and all Taiwanese share the same fate, so we should treat each other with mutual respect rather than fight each other to the death."

Unfortunately, Ma's realization may have come too late. For the past six years, the quality of Taiwan's democracy has dwindled.

The Economist Intelligence Unit's (EIU) Index of Democracy recently ranked Taiwan's democratic performance 32nd in the world, earning it a spot as a "flawed democracy" as defined by the EIU. However, it is worth noting that of the five evaluation categories, Taiwan received a particularly low score only in "political culture." In the other categories, Taiwan fared about the same or even better than many "full democracies."

For example, compared with France, Taiwan scored nearly the same in many categories. Taiwan earned 9.58 points out of 10 in "electoral process and pluralism," 7.5 in "functioning of government" and 6.76 in "political participation." In these three categories, Taiwan and France were rated the same. Taiwan scored a 9.71 in "civil liberties," which is even higher than France's 9.21. So what pulled down Taiwan's overall rating?

The answer boils down to political culture -- a category in which Taiwan scored only 5.63 points, lagging far behind France's 7.50. That score is also lower than those of many so-called "third wave" democracies, as well as a number of countries still stuck in the "hybrid democracy" stage -- and even some authoritarian regimes.

The pan-blue camp's accusation that DPP intimidation has restricted freedom of speech lacks any real insight. The true problem facing Taiwan still lies in its political culture.

The EIU has adopted a simple and direct definition of political culture: "A successful democratic political culture means that the losing parties and their supporters accept the judgment of the voters and allow for the peaceful transfer of power."

Judging by this simple definition, we can easily see that the KMT's obstructionism -- be it in the legislature or the streets, in Taiwan or in China -- is the manifestation of a party unwilling to accept the fact that the DPP is in power. This situation became more pronounced after the pan-blue camp refused to accept defeat in the 2004 presidential election, and former KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and former People First Party chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) chose to make pilgrimages to Beijing to make peace with China rather than seek reconciliation with the DPP. Taiwan's democracy has been at a standstill ever since.

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