The recent demonstrations in Hong Kong against the introduction of national “patriotism” classes and the Legislative Council elections held on Sept. 9, can be compared with Taiwan’s present political predicament.
Hong Kong’s objections to the “patriotism” classes result from a clash of universal values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, which were — in part — left behind by the British and the rule of individual discretion and authoritarianism as introduced by the Chinese.
Meanwhile, democratic progress in Taiwan is currently being restricted by the same brand of Chinese authoritarian government. Democracy under the rule of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is increasingly a sham. The reality is a government that has monopolized all five administrative branches. People go to the ostensibly democratic polls blind to the serious internal problems that afflict the nation and elections are regularly won by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) because of their control of major assets, the judiciary and the media.
The transition of political power that occurred in 2000 was purely superficial in nature. The mechanisms of state remained the same and old laws were left untouched. Things are no more just than they were before. Outside observers cannot see the failings of Taiwan’s democracy and the Taiwanese themselves are angered by what it has morphed into: They do not dare seize the initiative and push for real, meaningful reform.
In the past, Hong Kongers could not understand why the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) insisted on taking to the streets about every other issue. Often they would look on in consternation as lawmakers came to blows in our legislature. Now, more people in Hong Kong are out on the streets protesting than there ever were in Taiwan. Back in 1997, voters in Hong Kong had little time for Leung Kwok-hung’s (梁國雄) radicalism and he was lucky to get elected to the Legislative Council in 2004. In this election, his popularity was such that not only was his own seat assured, but he was also able to help some of his fellow candidates rally votes in their constituencies.
Twenty years ago, the largest pro-democracy party in Hong Kong, the Democratic Party, was advocating moderate rationalism, but it was frustrated in Sunday’s election and their electoral support fell by 20 percent in the five direct election constituencies. Over the last several years, young people in Hong Kong have become increasingly politicized and radicalized. The reason for this is that Hong Kong is becoming more like China every day and it is the younger generation — whose futures this will affect most — who are to be the greatest victims of this process.
Two years ago, the Democratic Party engaged in secretive meetings with Beijing that resulted in compromises on political reform, resulting in the addition of five additional seats in the legislature for geographic constituencies, with representatives elected through universal suffrage and five super district councilor seats also elected through universal suffrage. The party found it difficult to answer critics who accused it of having sold out Hong Kong’s democracy. It was also accused of having made excessive concessions to the Hong Kong government on other public policy issues — especially those concerning the immediate interests of the middle and lower classes as well as the territory’s youth — and of concentrating too much on talks with the Chinese communists and with the Hong Kong government. It was also accused of distancing itself from the more radical elements of the pro-democracy movement. Seen to be shunning those it should have been supporting, much of the youth vote has discarded the party.