In a democracy, every citizen has one vote through which they can elect their head of state, local leaders and representatives at the local and national levels. Civic rights, however, are not limited to casting that sacred vote, and only by providing a series of pre- and post-election measures will we be able to use the democratic system to fully manifest the fundamental principle that sovereignty lies with the people.
Although Taiwan has held many elections, there hasn't been much progress in either election format or attitudes. Many voters have no idea what their candidate stands for, or in what way that candidate might influence the creation of public policy.
Taiwanese voters are affected by personal, local and profit factors -- all of which are far removed from the idea of voting according to one's own free will. Voters also lack an understanding of how to continue to monitor their representatives' performance -- which has resulted in several elected politicians displaying quite repulsive behavior. The chaos in the legislature and the self-enriching legislation recently passed by the Taitung County Council are only the tip of the iceberg.
This is also why we should approach the legislative elections in January and the presidential election next March by asking whether there is a possibility to improve or completely redo elections so that voters can make their choice based on more complete information.
Loud and raucous campaign events don't normally occur in more advanced democracies, which usually use modern technology so that voters of different backgrounds can discuss issues that are of concern to everyone and check the reaction of candidates by asking them direct questions through electronic media.
One example is the recent debate between the Democratic Party's presidential hopefuls in the US where questions were gathered by CNN and YouTube. This approach allowed more people to participate directly in the democratic process.
What is stopping Taiwan from trying the same approach? I hope that the candidates, parties, nongovernmental organizations and the general public will be able to push for open and rational debate ahead of next year's polls. This would not only demonstrate democratic maturity, but would provide a channel by which voters can examine the candidates and their platforms.
Only if next year's elections lead to the introduction of new and innovative mechanisms for public participation will our election process move toward a more advanced democratic culture and improve the chances that competent legislators and a competent president are elected.
Ku Chung-hwa is a professor of sociology at National Chengchi University.
Translated by Perry Svensson