The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has released its Democracy Index for this year, which includes 167 countries. The index shows that democracy worldwide has retreated and Taiwan’s ranking dropped one place, from 36th last year to 37th. This is a warning sign that Taiwan cannot afford to ignore.
Geographically, Taiwan is located next to the world’s largest communist state and that makes being a strong democracy an indispensable element in the protection of national security.
Taiwan’s ranking in the index has dropped for several consecutive years, from 34th in 2008, to 36th last year and now to 37th. Among the five categories, rated on a scale of zero to 10, Taiwan’s score dropped in two categories in particular: functioning of government and political participation. In the former, the score dropped from 7.5 in 2008 to 7.14 this year, while in the latter, it dropped from 6.67 in 2008 to 5.56 this year. The government clearly has to take some responsibility for the decline.
Faced with the trend of Taiwan’s weakening democracy, Taiwanese must break out of their apathy and take action. In terms of functioning of government, the presidential and legislative elections on Jan. 14 will offer voters an opportunity to re-think their stance.
In particular, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government now holds an administrative and legislative majority, so it does not have to worry about any obstacles posed by the opposition. This means that if the government doesn’t function as it should, there is a problem with its ability to plan forward and execute those plans.
As for declining rates of political participation, Taiwanese need to cleave to the principle that “the people are the masters” and support actions that will expand public participation, such as amending the Referendum Law (公投法) in order to expand the channels for public participation in politics.
Merely relying on elections every four years clearly does not provide sufficient opportunities for public participation and it makes it difficult for the public to function as a counterbalance to those in power.
In addition, Taiwan should strengthen its education. Civic education should also be strengthened because, unfortunately, not enough has been done in this respect.
In particular, too little has been done in terms of the textbook materials and educational activities that the Ministry of Education plans to increase. There is little in these volumes that increases students’ basic understanding of the political society or that strengthens their civic awareness.
Given these circumstances, it is difficult for the young generation to develop an active and correct attitude toward political participation once they grow up and take a more active part in civic society.
The presidential candidates should treat the decline in the ranking of Taiwan’s democracy as a crisis of equal importance to the economic downturn. They should come up with concrete policies and make substantive statements, and safeguard Taiwan’s democracy in the same way the government safeguards the stock market.
This is the only way for Taiwan to build a stable and healthy foundation on which to strive for sustainable security, development and progress.
Bill Chang is an assistant professor at Taipei Medical University.
Translated by Eddy Chang