In accordance with the government’s announcement in February, the name plaque at the National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall will be removed by the end of this month and replaced with the old one bearing the name “Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.”
At the time of the announcement, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said that the government would gauge public opinion on the controversy, including the fate of the “Liberty Square” inscription and whether the four-character inscription dazhong zhizheng (大中至正) should be reinstated at the hall entrance.
Those who took Ma on his word on the memorial hall have been disappointed yet again.
Shortly after his big win in the presidential election in March last year, Ma said “the renaming of the hall is not a pressing matter” when asked by reporters what he would do about the memorial hall after taking office.
Less than three months into his presidency, however, the Executive Yuan withdrew from the legislature a proposal submitted by the former Democratic Progressive Party administration that proposed abolishing the Organic Statute of Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (中正紀念堂組織條例).
This was followed by a motion passed by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)-dominated legislature in January demanding that the Ministry of Education “quickly remove the name plaque of the National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall and reinstate the name plaque for the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in its original location.”
So much for saying that the memorial hall issue was “not a pressing matter.”
Ma’s unkept promise to gauge public opinion on the renaming of the hall is set to trigger more disillusionment.
Commissioned by the Ministry of Education, three public forums were hosted by Shih Hsin University last month to discuss issues related to the hall.
Each of the three was conducted behind closed doors, during which a total of eight or 10 academics, experts and historians were invited to share their views on what the government should do about the “Liberty Square” inscription and other matters relating to the hall.
While the government was quick to pat itself on the back for “making an effort to seek a consensus,” the fact of the matter is that these so-called “public forums” simply aired the opinions of a select few.
The way these forums were conducted and the failure to facilitate broader public dialogue and engagement show the administration’s lack of commitment to democratic principles and betray an arrogant attitude. It holds the public in contempt.
The Ma government needs to understand that democracy is not just about holding elections, but also involving and respecting the voices of the public on issues of national and social importance.
If a government fails to honor that commitment, then “democracy” becomes a cynical slogan.