Wed, Apr 23, 2014 - Page 8 News List

Social unrest can save our democractic institutions

By Liu Ching-yi 劉靜怡

After the students ended their occupation of the legislative chamber and, at least temporarily, suspended the Sunflower movement, former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman Lin I-hsiung (林義雄) announced that he was going on a hunger strike to call on the government to stop the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s Gongliao District (貢寮). Leaving aside the coldheartedness of Premier Jiang Yi-huah’s (江宜樺) response that Lin “is hurting himself to obtain his goals,” as social attention has shifted slightly from the cross-strait service trade agreement issue toward the nuclear issue, we should pay attention to the fact that both these issues are fundamentally connected to the survival of Taiwan’s democracy.

More than 20 years ago, the slogan “opposition to nuclear power is opposition to tyranny” was used to criticize the arbitrary nuclear policy of the party-state system. Today, Lin is saying that if a majority of the public want to stop construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, but the government manages to use various devious means to override public opinion and continue construction, then our democratic system has stopped functioning and is in a state of crisis.

This clearly shows that after the introduction of direct presidential elections, and other democratic procedures, we find ourselves in a preposterous situation where laws and regulations are insufficient to implement democracy and constitutionalism. In other words, the current division of government powers is incapable of solving disputes resulting from the executive branch’s abuse of power in connection with major policies.

While almost 80 percent of the public express clear doubts about nuclear power, the government continues to ignore public opinion, insisting on following existing plans and activating the plant’s fuel rods in June. Using this completely unreasonable “government according to the law” as an excuse to remove real and effective public participation from the whole process, while instead seeking the support of friendly experts behind closed doors, is in no way helpful to resolving a major dispute over public policy and it is an irresponsible way of forcing the public into a dangerous situation.

The autocracy expressed in the nuclear policy over many years and the conflict over the lack of transparency in connection with the trade pact are both the result of our inability to consolidate and deepen democracy through effective systemic arrangements. This is why the premier could say that he was confident that a Fukushima Dai-ichi-style nuclear disaster could be avoided in Taiwan and why mayoral candidates all have a vague position on the issue of nuclear risk.

While this is placing the nation at risk of nuclear disaster, no one can be held accountable for doing so. If not unexpected, it is very distressing.

Lin is preparing to go on a hunger strike in his old home where his mother and twin daughters were murdered on Feb. 28, 1980, to bring public attention to the urgency of the nuclear issue. Rather than saying that he is sacrificing himself for the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, it would be more correct to say that he is prepared to become a martyr for the sake of democracy.

However, if the vast majority who support the abolition of nuclear power are unable to rely on effective democratic procedures through which to stop the construction of the plant, and prevent the extension of operations at the existing plants, social conflict will continue to intensify. The political pressure created by this will likely be the only way to save Taiwan’s democracy.

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