Tue, Apr 07, 2009 - Page 8 News List

Private lobbyists hobbling nation

By Tsong Tien-tzou 鄭天佐

A political party should consist of like-minded politicians working together in pursuit of certain ideals. However, political parties often degenerate into groups concerned with their personal interests that cannot tell right from wrong, fail to protect human rights and justice and get caught up in pursuing power and profit.

Corporations in Taiwan are well aware of what politicians need for their campaigns and invest large amounts of money in both pan-blue and pan-green parties to gain power to control the government’s financial and economic policies. Politicians and corporations have intricate and complex relations and do what is best for reaching their goals.

In the US, for example, the government and Congress each day receive visits from thousands of lobbyists who represent different interest groups and try to influence how the government and senators draw up and promulgate legislation. Public interest groups dealing with issues like environmental protection, disease prevention and research or charity are both legitimate and necessary. Private interest groups that represent industries such as tobacco companies, the military-industrial complex, banks and the insurance sector, use their huge funds to push legislation beneficial to the interests of their own corporation and their shareholders. They need not win the support of voters and rely on political contributions to curry favor with politicians.

Candidates in a democracy should hope to serve the public, but all talk of service is useless if a candidate fails to get elected. Even if a candidate is not greedy and corrupt, political campaigns cost large sums of money and political candidates often have to acquire funds from wealthy corporations. Corporations always remember the debts candidates owe them. Candidates need votes and of course, corporations may also have some control over how their employees will vote.

Compared with other democracies, Taiwan has two additional powerful private interest groups. The first is the ruling political party with its huge assets, and the second is the large number of China-based Taiwanese businesspeople. Many politicians relax their personal ideals because they need the party’s assets to fund their campaigns. By doing so, they end up blindly following the senior party and government officials.

The ruling party has also used the advantages gained from its long time in power to draw up socially unjust clauses aimed at benefiting the military, civil servants and teachers to guarantee a large number of sure votes. This has distorted democracy and turned the party into an authoritarian private interest group. Taiwanese businesspeople in China have also teamed up with certain government officials, forming common interest groups that ignore public opinion in promoting China-leaning policies beneficial to themselves.

Voters in other democracies despise corporations that use huge contributions to control senators and officials. All a candidate can do is promise time and time again that they will not develop disputable relationships with corporations. US President Barack Obama received large campaign contributions via the Internet. This proved the strength and autonomy of Obama’s team, which eventually managed to win the trust of voters and come out victorious. Unfortunately, Taiwanese citizens are still not wary enough of the collusion between politicians, business and private interest groups. Even some “community leaders” try to work their way up the ladder to gain position and power and in doing so not only neglect to speak up for the disadvantaged and minority groups, but also play the role of a mouthpiece for the private interests of authoritarian groups.

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