Sun, Jan 11, 2009 - Page 8 News List

Steel doors closing on Taiwan’s democracy

By Huang Kuo-chang 黃國昌

In January last year, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) scored a resounding victory over the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the legislative elections, winning more than 50 percent of the total vote and just below three-quarters of all legislative seats.

Two months later, KMT candidate Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was elected president, garnering more than 55 percent of the total vote. Cooperation between the administrative and legislative branches led to an immediate reshuffle of top positions in the Control, Examination and Judicial yuan.

The major changes to Taiwan’s democracy that have occurred in less than a year are not a reflection of the maturity and vigor that the second transition of government power would imply, but rather of the collapse of constitutional mechanisms for supervising and balancing power as Taiwan’s democracy has its wings clipped and is locked up in a steel cage.

It has been around 300 days since former legislator Diane Lee (李慶安) was reported to hold dual citizenship. Regardless of concrete evidence against her, the government ignored calls to relieve Lee of her legislative status, to recover illegal income made during her terms in elected office and to prosecute her on suspicion of committing criminal offenses. Besides actively backing her, the government never moved past approving her resignation from the KMT.

During the visit by Association for Relations Across Taiwan Strait Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) to Taipei in November last year, the government violated human rights by resorting to excessive police force to protect Chen. Not only did those in power fail to review their behavior, but prosecutors did not initiate investigations into the case. When the public appealed to courts and the Control Yuan, the government disregarded and sneered at their dissatisfaction. The Wild Strawberry Student Movement has gradually come to an end after being treated indifferently by the politically influenced media.

In September last year, a typhoon caused a landslide near the Maokong Gondola, revealing unknown construction problems. With scant regard for the safety of residents and environmental protection, the Taipei City government began construction of the gondola, calling it an amusement park facility to avoid a legally required environmental assessment.

The gondola finally commenced operations as a means of mass transportation. Faced with this flawed and illegal “achievement” by Ma during his terms as Taipei mayor — which will continue to waste hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money — Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) publicly said that Ma was in no way responsible, and other related organizations have remained silent.

With the government signing several significant agreements with China concerning national development, the legislature chose to remain silent, evading its constitutional responsibility of supervising the government on behalf of the public. While political appointees blatantly violated laws, the legislature chose to forget its own role and power. Many more examples of the nation’s democratic regression can be seen as its mechanisms for checks and balances collapse. The democracy we used to enjoy is disappearing day by day.

The options we are facing now are actually very simple: Slowly fall asleep and die or start to call for a change. The cage may be strong, but if there is any hope of breaking out of it, we should try to do so.

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