Fri, Nov 21, 2008 - Page 8 News List

The dire straits of Taiwanese democracy

By Allen Houng 洪裕宏

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) says he has no problem with changing the “permit system” in the Assembly and Parade Law (集會遊行法) to a “notification system” because the problem does not lie in the system but in the use of violence at protests.

How could violence be the problem?

No one disputes the fact that whoever commits violence should be punished in accordance with the law.

During Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chairman Chen Yunlin’s (陳雲林) five-day visit, the government abused its power and suppressed the public’s constitutionally protected rights of expression and assembly, leading citizens to fear that democracy in Taiwan was coming to an end.

Will the government eliminate the Taiwanese elite through blanket judicial oppression and other direct or indirect means? Will it create an atmosphere of terror reminiscent of the era of White Terror under dictators Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國)? Will it frighten the Taiwanese into accepting China’s goal of annexing Taiwan?

Does Ma really understand what democracy is? As he emphasizes his respect for the Constitution, does he understand that it essentially is a law that protects human rights?

Does he know that sovereignty rests with the people, that they are the masters of this land and that the legitimacy of government authority comes from public consent?

Does he know that the basic human rights upheld by the Constitution are absolute rights that can only be restricted under extraordinary circumstances of clear and present danger?

These concepts of freedom have grown deep roots since they appeared during the European Enlightenment in the 18th Century.

It is also a fundamental value of democratic societies that democracy cannot be suppressed by social factors.

However, Ma says that “any system is negotiable as long as there is no violence,” or, in other words, as long as there is violence, no system is negotiable.

What is the difference between him and the democratically elected Adolf Hitler, who established his authoritarian rule in the name of anti-communism? Democracy is the most fundamental value, and it must never be abandoned or sacrificed.

In the book, A Theory of Justice, US political philosopher John Rawls argues that the first principle of justice is that human and political rights are priority rights that must never be removed for any reason.

Ma is now threatening to abolish the public’s constitutional rights. He is unaware that he does not have the power to treat human rights as a gift to be given to those who do as they are told.

Some Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators have echoed Ma, saying that an amendment to the Assembly and Parade Law must focus on maintaining social stability and public order.

Almost everyone in the Ma government believes that they need to restrict constitutionally enshrined human rights in the name of security and order.

This shows that Ma and his party are every bit as authoritarian as they used to be under the Chiang family. Taiwan’s democratic reform over the past 20 years has not changed them.

They still believe in this authoritarian ideology. Indeed, Taiwan’s democracy is in dire straits. I’m afraid that our efforts against the “blue terror” may be insufficient to stop it.

Over the next few years, if Ma does not stop before it is too late, street riots may become a fixture in Taiwan as the general public tries to safeguard its democracy.

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