Tue, Feb 06, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Focus on the economy, not politics

By Lai Shin-yuan 賴幸媛

So what does "center-left" really mean anyway? Since the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) decided to transform itself into a center-left political party, many have been scratching their heads and raising questions about the move. Regrettably, Taiwan has long lacked the traditional left-right political dimension because politicians and media commentators are only interested in debating independence versus unification. They have a narrow international outlook and weak social awareness, which has locked them into a single-track manner of thinking.

Over the past few days, the media have been questioning whether the TSU has shifted its position on the cross-strait issue, and trying to define left or right based the party's independence-unification stance. This not only shows that their knowledge remains on the level of pre-modern political thinking, but that they ignore the public's hardships.

The terms "left" and "right" first appeared during the French Revolution. The debate in the French Legislative Assembly over whether to keep the monarchy and grant the king veto rights created two rival groups. Royalist clerics and conservative aristocrats and capitalists sat on the right of the legislative speaker while progressive young aristocrats, independent professionals and radical members of the bourgeoisie supporting a clean break with the old regime sat on the left.

In contrast to the conservative right-wingers who only wanted to protect their vested interests, the left-wingers demanded a plan to redistribute benefits that met the requirements of people at the lowest rungs of society and eradicate institutionalized oppression and exploitation. The opposition between these two groups set the stage for modern politics.

In Taiwan, the lifting of martial law in 1987, the termination of the Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of Communist Rebellion, the complete re-election of the legislature and the first direct presidential election in 1996 heralded the end of an obsolete political system, and the ceding of power to and vesting sovereignty in the citizenry. Under the leadership of former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), Taiwan turned a new page in its history when it underwent a peaceful revolution without rebellion or bloodshed.

The peaceful revolution, however, still has to be completed. Although the nation's citizens now enjoy political power, the fruits of economic growth have not been evenly distributed. Since the Democratic Progressive Party came to power in 2000, the gap between rich and poor has continued to widen. More people are suffering from unemployment, poverty and debt. Many workers still feel oppressed and exploited by the system. Taiwan's democratization has not brought more prosperity to the general public.

In his 2005 book A New Age of Taiwanese, Lee said that "the historical meaning of political reform is establishing a democratic society that respects individual liberty and self-determination, not just laying down the first steps for the shell of a democratic system. Now that Taiwan has clearly established economic freedom and political democracy, it needs to move on to the work of rebuilding society from the bottom up by realizing the true meaning of `vesting sovereignty in the people.'"

But having accomplished democratic reforms to vest sovereignty in the people, many people remain in dire financial straits, unable to share in the fruits brought by the first stage of reform.

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