It would also make it highly unlikely that the two major parties would come together on any of the really important issues, and that backbiting and corruption accusations would continue as the life-blood of the system. The old political pattern would not change, and Taiwanese democracy would slide into the mire.
Is it possible to alter this DPP approach in a way that might result in a more democratic outcome? A limited practice of consociational discussion and decisionmaking centered on the China issue in the broadest sense, incorporating basic economic, cultural and political considerations, might itself be utilized as a test of the idea and bring party politics in Taiwan into greater repute.
Such a limited project might be given a two or three-year trial. Might extended and publicly informed debates on the very issue that has engendered the idea of consociational democracy for the nation be used to test its validity as a mode of operation?
At the time, Tsai’s formulation was all too easily seen as a call for a grand coalition government. There is no way President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and the KMT were going to listen to that. It was never feasible.
However, there is no reason why the idea could not be translated into explicit policies and discussions in ways which do not spell out coalition government.
Consociation might be avoided at the level of parliament, but there might be consociation at the level of expert advisers and in widening participation in decisionmaking, together with consociation at three “levels of dialogue”: administrative to legislative, government to society and party to party. At the very least, this would demand more public platforms for systematic policy formation over the next term of KMT governance.
Why should there be any objection to placing the so-called “1992 consensus” at the center of critical discussion and on all levels of consociation? If an experiment in consociation were indeed mounted upon the China issue, debate would become more inclusive and considered, a variety of opinions could be heard, and Taiwan would preserve its right to be considered an exemplary new East Asian democracy — in itself a soft-power defense against Chinese arrogance.
The danger is that effective objections would arise from the threatened egos of all those who have not thought of this themselves. Coming from Tsai and the DPP, such ideas would be aborted, bludgeoned or blurred by the KMT’s interests before they could be tested on even a modest level.
Perhaps this is the quandary that should be inserted into the present run for chairmanship of the DPP? Is there a candidate who might extract the China issue from the political mire and forge it into the vehicle of more inclusive Taiwanese politics?
Ian Inkster is professor of international history at Nottingham Trent University, professor of global history at Wenzao Ursuline College in Kaohsiung and has been editor of History of Technology since 2000.