Keep following the light
While growing up in Texas, I noticed sunflowers were everywhere; they stretched out for acres along ranches, grew next to fence lines and even flourished down by the sand dunes. What is interesting about this particular flower is that wherever it grows, it follows the light.
Demonstrating both power and grace, the sunflower, as well as the mountain lily, have been used a symbols to mark the resilience of the democratic movement in Taiwan.
For decades, Taiwanese have been prevented from freely expressing their views on the future direction of their country. From 1949 to 1987, people lived under restrictive laws, which imposed political silence and cultural repression. In 1987, these restrictions were finally lifted, due to pressure from grassroots organizations locally as well as help from supporters overseas. Since then, the people have consolidated their democracy and after recent advancements, have established a much more vibrant political environment with a more level playing field.
In 1990, the Wild Lily student movement helped generate momentum in the nation’s momentous transition to democracy, and set the stage for a similar movement that would take place almost 25 years later.
The Sunflower movement, beginning on March 18 last year, was the next major breakthrough that changed the political landscape. Thousands of students spoke out against the lack of political transparency, the absence of sound governance and the unpopular push for the service trade agreement with China. Only a few months later, in November last year, they took their activism to the polls to elect new local leaders who would better reflect the views of Taiwanese.
About 68 percent of the nation’s voters turned out. Statistics showed that more than 70 percent of individuals aged 20 to 29 cast their votes — one of the highest youth turnout rates in Taiwanese history. In this monumental election, more than 76 percent of the seats in local councils and committees went to independent or Democratic Progressive Party members.
The Wild Lily student movement, the Sunflower movement and the elections in November last year were all breakthroughs that changed the status quo in a more positive direction. However, for further advancements to occur, the US and other international powers must urge China to progressively remove its missiles and accept Taiwan as a friendly neighbor.
Though Chinese threats and intimidation still persist, it is essential that Taiwanese feel empowered to choose their own destiny. The next major opportunity to show the world what they really want is the upcoming presidential election in January next year. It is crucial that the members of the Sunflower movement continue their active participation in the political process and work hard for Taiwan to remain “on the right side of history.”
Much like the sunflower, which always follows the sunlight, so must the Taiwanese continue to pursue their free and democratic future.
Plutocracy into democracy
The rich appear to have the upper hand under the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) administration.
While GDP growth still maintains an annual rate on average of about 3 percent in the past 10 to 20 years, the real income of the citizens has been declining. By and large, the net economic growth has all gone to the rich, while the poor have suffered from the resulting high inflation.
The basic cost of living has nearly doubled in 10 years and the cost of housing has gone through the roof. Even Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) and his wife — two doctors — could not afford a house in Taipei without parental help.
In Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, he writes that when wealth inequality reaches a certain level, democracy devolves into plutocracy — rule by the rich. The root of the problem of income inequality, besides the natural tendency of capitalism to favor the rich, is political corruption. Moreover, the campaign cost of an election continues to escalate as big money is more than willing to grab power.
The cost of Taipei’s mayoral election appears to be a high percentage of the city budget — exceeding the percentage of the US’ presidential election costs in terms of its federal government budget. This is the best money can buy, since the return on the investment can be huge, as evidenced by the alleged food-scandal criminals the Presidential Office has been accused of protecting.
The city government under former Taipei mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) was very much of the rich, by the rich, for the rich. The collusion between Hau and the rich is beyond belief. He purchased a flower arrangement at 10 times the market price for the 2010 Taipei International Flora Expo, asserting that art is priceless.
Some build-operate-transfer (BOT) projects signed by Hau appear to make outrageous concessions to business owners. Their intimately close relations can only encourage corruption.
Other cities do not fare better in terms of money politics. The alleged vote-buying at the council speaker elections in Tainan is perhaps the tip of the iceberg, since evidence is hard to collect for these cases — and prosecution harder still. The effort to turn the current plutocracy back to democracy might be too little and too late.
Citizen support is important for Ko to negotiate with businesses fairly and squarely, and to set up a model for future BOT projects. To open all related government documents on the Web for citizens to examine would be the best way to make the government open and transparent, and to allow citizens to police contract implementation. Ko’s smart city concept is urged to, first and foremost, make good use of this intelligent tool to safeguard against the plutocracy.
The nation is at a crossroads. The public financing of an election model Norway has put forth is a good approach to take, and next year’s presidential election is set to be most crucial in determining whether Taiwanese will choose plutocracy or democracy.
Santa Carina, California
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