It would be difficult these days to ignore all the grumbling about how "messy" the road to next year's legislative and presidential elections has become. And with election time just around the corner, those voices are bound to become even louder.
It has not, indeed, been a pretty picture. The electoral painting so far consists of precious few strokes of originality, several blotches of character assassination and equal daubs of sheer stupidity, gallons of promises, layer upon layer of empty rhetoric and swaths of unused canvas. Moreover, the two principal artists who have worked on the project have not been given the same amount of paint, which has resulted in an imbalanced artwork, with far more blue than green.
We've also seen the machinations to rig (or refashion, depending on one's view) the Central Election Commission in the hopes of avoiding a deplorable historical truth, accusations of platforms stolen, repetition ad nauseam of a supposedly sagging economy, the "one vote" versus "two vote" war of attrition and the UN referendum, joined at the hip by its Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)-hatched evil twin.
Throughout all this we have had the probes into alleged corruption and the Democratic Progressive Party's asinine proposal yesterday that the immediate relatives of those responsible for the 228 Incident be legally accountable to the victims' families -- all cynical efforts that only the long dead would fail to associate with the elections. Ugly indeed.
But before you start planning something other than a visit to the polling booth on election day, think of this: Are elections elsewhere -- in countries where elections are actually possible -- any better? A brief survey should enlighten us.
In the democracy of democracies, US President George W. Bush, who lost the 2000 election by any reasonable measure, has been in the White House for seven long years. Across the Florida Strait, Cuban President Fidel Castro, who likes to call Cuban elections "the most democratic in the world," is not even directly elected by citizens.
Populists, meanwhile, like to boast of popularity levels that are so laughable as to be equaled only by former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's -- and that was at gunpoint. Hugo Chavez has sought (but seems to have failed and will likely blame the US) to become president for life, while Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose term is up, is trying to devise a way to stay in power. In Pakistan, meanwhile, Pervez Musharraf has been dismembering democracy one judge at a time in preparation for elections, the outcome of which is known by all.
Closer to home, the Philippine president cannot even leave the country without fearing she might not be president when she returns. Thailand, for its part, has had so many coups we've lost count, while in Hong Kong, despite pro-democracy Anson Chan's (
The truth is that democracy is a cacophony and the inherent freedoms it guarantees allow individuals to exploit and contort and distort. Imperfect though it is, Taiwan's democracy works, and when you weigh it against the many other democracies and quasi-democracies of this world, it doesn't fare too badly. Transfer of power has occurred peacefully, the military is safely under civilian control and will not take to the streets whenever the president leaves the country.