It has been 20 years since the lifting of martial law, but the democratic government of Taiwan is in serious trouble. If we look back on the development of Taiwanese democracy, it seems that although the struggle for the lifting of martial law was a long and arduous one, building a healthy democratic system is even more difficult.
In theory, the goal of democratization is to establish a working system of democratic governance by political parties. Although a peaceful transfer of power took place in 2000, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration has not been able to function effectively. The opposition parties inherited the legislative majority that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) had held for so long, and now effectively boycott and obstruct the government.
Although the ruling party hasn't had the means to break the powerful opposition boycott, with its ample administrative resources, the DPP government should have been able to achieve more than it has. Instead, it has been dogged by corruption.
The root of the problem is the conflict between the political parties. They seem to think that "governing" means monopolizing government resources and executive agencies, as well as high positions in and the resources of state-run businesses. The opposition, on the other hand, puts all its effort into obstructing the government and regaining power. The transfer of power turned out to be little different from one dynasty overthrowing another; all that has changed is the party controlling the resources.
The transition to democracy entailed large-scale and fundamental reform. Yet eight constitutional amendments have failed to make democracy take root. The most remarkable thing about the administration of President Chen Shui-bian (
In May last year, under great pressure, Chen announced that he would reduce his presidential powers. But after the crisis of the anti-Chen protests passed, the president relapsed into his old bad habits, exercising more power than he should be entitled to. Often his actions are political, forcing executive departments and the DPP to act in accordance with his designs.
After martial law was lifted and Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) succeeded Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) as president, Lee wanted to amend the Executive Yuan Organic Law (行政院組織法) to overhaul the structure of the executive organizations. But now, almost 20 years later, there has still been no real reform. In the last years of KMT rule, then premier Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) pushed to "rebuild the government," but this initiative petered out.
After the DPP took office, it too made a point of saying it would carry out governmental reform, but nothing came of that either. Amendments to the Executive Yuan Organic Law have been placed on the legislative agenda, but have always failed to pass.
Many politicians have made plans for large-scale reforms of the upper echelons of the executive. But implementation of these plans has been postponed, causing serious damage to the running of the government and the development of the country, as well as to the development of the nation's democracy.
The legislature is in even greater need of reform. Because of the KMT's monopoly and the powerlessness of the governing party's legislators, the legislature has become notorious for its inefficiency and flawed procedures. In recent years, the legislature has seriously hindered the functioning of the government and the country's overall development.
Now that politicians, because of populist concerns and a lack of political wisdom, have amended the Constitution to halve the number of seats in the legislature, each representative will have much greater power in the next legislature. Moreover, judging by the results of the legislative primaries, the quality of the representatives might drop significantly. For these reasons, the future of the legislature looks bleak. Taiwan's democratic governance will suffer seriously as a result.
As early as 1999, the National Judicial Reform Committee planned many fundamental and important programs for the reform of the judiciary. But although some headway has been made, there has been almost no progress at all on the most fundamental proposals for judicial reform, such as establishing the "judge law" and "public prosecutors law," as well as amendments to the Organic Law of the Judicial Yuan (司法院組織法). The ruling party doesn't have enough power to push through amendments and new laws, and high-level decision-makers in the opposition have no intention of cooperating, and so that has come to a halt as well.
The executive, the legislature and the judiciary are the same as they've always been, as the many plans for reform have stalled. This, of course, negatively influences the efficiency of the government and the development of society.
Political parties only act to protect their own interests, resulting in bitter infighting, and have no intention of working to establish a healthy democratic system. The reform of the executive, legislature and judiciary can't be expected in the foreseeable future.
Twenty years after martial law was lifted, democratic governance in Taiwan faces a crisis even more serious than in the martial law era.
Political parties yield considerable power in Taiwanese politics, but with that power comes the responsibility to solve the many problems facing the country and to establish a healthy democratic system.
Chiu Hei-yuan is the director of the Institute of Sociology at the Academia Sinica.
Translated by Anna Stiggelbout
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