Sat, Aug 11, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Campaigns are poorer for lack of real debate

By James Chan 詹長權

Over the past few months, the campaign activities and news relating to Democratic Progressive Party presidential candidate Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) and Chinese Nationalist Party candidate Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) have revolved around their choice of running mate, legal cases against them and the consolidation of grassroots support.

However, in this process, neither Hsieh nor Ma's camp has been able to stir up voter enthusiasm.

After the lifting of martial law, local politicians learned about election campaigns and the media from democratic countries in Europe and North America.

This liberated Taiwanese from the dull, awkward election campaigns of the authoritarian era, and gave them an opportunity to experience the excitement that a democracy can bring.

Candidates have also learned negative campaigning techniques developed by Western strategists for those who would be elected at any cost, such as slandering opponents, fabricating issues and changing or avoiding the subject.

Policy debates in democratic countries like the UK, the US, Germany and France have been held for years, but Taiwan hasn't learned how to hold them. Television debates for presidential elections have not satisfied voters because there are so few, with an awkward format and superficial content.

It is only through frequent contact with opponents in a debating environment that candidates with strong opinions and self-confidence can show the difference between themselves and their policies and those of their rivals.

Presidential debates in the US led to John F. Kennedy beating Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan defeating Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton beating George H.W. Bush on election day.

Next year's presidential election will impact on many important issues relating to the nation's future.

Will Taiwan seek unification or independence? Can a balance of power be found between the president, the Cabinet and the legislature, while maintaining effective government?

How do we break through China's blockade, establish more diplomatic relations and join more global organizations?

Can more direct rule by the public be achieved by making referendums easier to hold? How can Taiwan's competitiveness be improved and the standard of living raised?

How can we reduce inequalities resulting from gender, ethnicity, class, geography and the rural-urban divide? Can education connect globalization and localization?

And can a national culture strike a balance between the influences of Mandarin, Hoklo, Hakka, Aboriginal and foreign languages?

This year, the Taipei Society is actively pushing for presidential debates that will allow voters the opportunity to obtain first-hand and useful information on these important issues.

It is hoped that when they return from their roadshows overseas and in the countryside, the leaders of both political camps will turn to serious political matters and participate in a presidential debate.

James Chan is a professor at the Institute of Occupational Medicine and Industrial Hygiene at National Taiwan University.

Translated by Anna Stiggelbout

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