Martial law era stings still smart
Yesterday marked the 25th anniversary of the lifting of martial law. In this quarter century, Taiwan has evolved into a full-fledged democracy and made significant progress toward respect for human rights.
Looking back on the occasion now, the public had already begun to challenge martial law through growing opposition and street protests in the 1980s. The lifting of martial law by former president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) in 1987 was a response to inevitable social changes.
The end of martial law led to freedom of speech, assembly and expression. Social movements have thrived over the past decades, pushing forward reforms in various fields, from labor rights, gender equality and agricultural developments to environmental protection, through both clashes and peaceful sit-ins.
Though the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was formed illegally in 1986 before martial law restrictions were revoked, the election of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) of the DPP in 2000 forced the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) into opposition for the first time in its history and completed the nation’s first peaceful transition of power.
So much progress has been made over the past 25 years. However, more efforts are needed to deal with the legacy of martial law.
Martial law was declared by Chiang Ching-kuo’s father, Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), in 1949 after the then-KMT regime in China was defeated by the Chinese Communist Party in a civil war and retreated to Taiwan. During the Martial Law era, thousands of people were arrested, imprisoned, tortured and murdered by the KMT government to suppress dissent.
The government’s violence against civilians in the White Terror, the 228 Massacre and other tragedies are a collective memory of dark and painful days for Taiwanese.
In an annual ceremony held to commemorate victims who lost their lives or were deprived of their freedom during the era, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who doubles as KMT chairman, yesterday reiterated an apology to the victims and their families, pledging to prevent similar incidents in the future.
He stressed the importance of the nation’s democratic system and peaceful cross-strait relations in preventing such tragedies, while vowing to continue promoting cross-strait relations to avoid a war.
As Ma and the KMT continue to focus their efforts on closer economic ties with China, they should remember that China is still an autocracy, while Taiwan has developed into a democracy. Developing economic relations with China is not the ultimate solution to our economic recession, and Beijing’s notorious human rights record is certainly the opposite direction of what Taiwan is pursuing in the post-Martial Law era.
Ma emphasized his determination to atone for the KMT’s past mistakes with his public apology. However, little progress has been made in uncovering the truths behind the incidents.
As a party that continues to insist on a party-state mechanism, the KMT obviously has not learned from its past mistakes and is not ready to fully repair the damage it has done.
The DPP, on the other hand, has also failed to help bring Taiwanese a better tomorrow, as it made few contributions to the nation during the eight years of its administration.
Both the KMT and the DPP should be blamed for obstructing the nation’s developments with bipartisanship in politics. As the lifting of martial law 25 years ago came in response to the public’s demand for change, it is, therefore, important for Taiwanese to demonstrate people power and demand that political parties improve their performance and work harder to bring about a better future for Taiwan.