Thu, Oct 11, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Voting for freedom and continuity

By Jim Auer

While I assume that a majority of Taiwanese do not want to unnecessarily antagonize China, which has hundreds of missiles pointed in their direction, I can certainly understand why they would not want to be residents of China.

One only needs to look at the findings of the Freedom House, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that is a clear voice for democracy and freedom around the world. Since 1972, Freedom House has ranked political and civil rights freedom for people around the world.

According to Freedom House, Taiwan was "not free" until the lifting of martial law in 1987 and only achieved a "free" political and civil rights ranking in 1996 when the nation held its first truly free presidential election. China, in comparison, is still "not free."

As far as the supposedly autonomous regions of Tibet and Hong Kong are concerned, Tibetans live in similar "not free" conditions with even a worse score than China itself, and Hong Kong has slipped from a "free" status when it was under British rule to only "partly free," according to Freedom House's findings last year.

In coming up with its rankings, Freedom House evaluates political rights in the following three categories: electoral processes, political pluralism and participation and the functioning of government.

On the civil side it evaluates four items: freedom of expression and belief, freedom of association and organization, the rule of law and personal autonomy and civil rights.

The highest (freest) score a populace can receive is 1/1 (1 in political rights and 1 in civil rights) and the lowest (least free) is 7/7 (7 in political rights and 7 in civil rights).

The US and Tibet have the highest and lowest scores possible respectively. Taiwan (since 1996) and Japan enjoy "free" status, while China is close to the bottom and Hong Kong has moved from free to partly free with a particular decline in political rights since its changeover from British to Chinese control.

Freedom House's data also reveals that although Taiwan is officially recognized by only a small number of countries compared to those that say they recognize only "one" China -- including some which state that Taiwan is part of China -- Taiwanese enjoy political and civil freedoms only experienced by the world's most advanced democracies.

Given the fact that ordinary Taiwanese are able to travel abroad and conduct business with these same democracies and that the US has declared quite firmly that it opposes the use of military force to remove the political and civil freedoms that Taiwanese enjoy, Taiwanese appear to enjoy domestic and international freedoms which are not as negative as some residents perceive.

If one posits that Taiwanese do value their political and civil rights but do not want to antagonize China unnecessarily by declaring independence, should one not also agree that a major issue in Taiwan's elections should be whether candidates favor maintaining the freedoms Taiwanese currently enjoy or are they willing to accept China's political and civil rights standards?

The official name of the Taiwanese government seems less important than whether its leaders are fighting to maintain or even improve upon the nation's political and human-rights records.

If I were Taiwanese I would want the person for whom I am going to vote for president and who is going to represent me in the legislature to answer the following questions:

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