In its long battle for international recognition, Taiwan has no greater asset than its hard-won democracy. More than anything, its democratic achievement is what distinguishes it from the authoritarian system in China. It is therefore crucial that this democracy be seen by the international community to be a functioning one worth protecting.
With crackdowns on human-rights advocates, curtailed freedom of the press and threats of illegal use of force against another nation, Beijing continues to provide ample contrasts with Taiwan, and those differences are part of the means by which the latter can express its identity.
But the determination of one's identity through differentiation can only accomplish so much. A nation cannot define who and what it is solely by focusing on what it is not. In fact, to find its true self, it must also make a statement about what it is.
And what it is is much more than what differentiates it from China -- a democratic system versus an authoritarian regime -- and comes instead from how it has developed the gift of democracy.
As such, next year's elections must be about more than the fact that elections can be held in the first place. Beyond process alone, it is the substance and quality of the elections that constitute the true health check of the nation and that provide it with the opportunity to underscore its value to the world.
Hence the need for voters next year to be offered choices among contending politicians who have been cleared, through impartial investigations, of wrongdoing or corruption. Nothing could be more harmful to Taiwan's survival and ambitions for sovereignty than for the world to see that its people value their democracy so lightly as to bring a crook to power. Should the world come to the conclusion that Taiwanese opted to elect an individual who has openly lied about his powers while in office, it will no longer feel the obligation to protect that society from anti-democratic encroachment.
After all, we cannot expect the rest of the world to care about Taiwan's democracy if its very people are incapable of seeing to it that it remains healthy and truly representative.
Just as Taiwan's military allies need to see that it is willing to do what it must and acquire what it needs to defend its territory from military aggression, its diplomatic allies -- and in fact even those who side with Beijing -- need to see that Taiwanese are ready to do what they must to protect their precious democracy. Commitment to that principle -- the process itself as well as the quality of the choices given a people -- is just as important as commitment to national defense.
Canada recently showed what it means to protect the quality of a democratic system by pushing for the investigation of high-level government corruption. The process ultimately led to the demise of prime minister Paul Martin's Liberal government. Regardless of whether the new Conservative government was the best thing for Canada, the country was mature enough to rid itself of elements whose presence was harmful to its democracy.
Taiwan should follow that example and ensure that allegations of corruption involving the upper echelons of government are fully explored. The prosecutors' decision to appeal the ruling on former Taipei mayor Ma Ying-jeou (
As long as doubts continue to linger about a candidate, no self-respecting democracy would allow that person to run for office. A democracy can only be functional when the choices given voters are individuals who are held accountable and who are flushed out if they are not worthy of our confidence.
If Taiwan wants to lose its luster and moral authority in the eyes of the world, it could do no worse than to bring a crook to power.
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