Ever since the occupation of the Legislative Yuan’s main chamber as part of the protests — commonly referred to as the Sunflower movement — against the government’s handling of the cross-strait service trade pact, civic power has emerged as a dominant force in Taiwanese politics.
The question of how to harness this power to advance the nation’s politics has become an important topic for discussion. The most pressing issue for political groups is how to use this power to promote institutional reform from within. Most attention has focused upon newly established groups such as the Taiwan Citizens’ Union and independent left-leaning political groups.
Prior to the Sunflower movement, the Taiwan Citizens’ Union was primarily formed by noble-minded individuals who wanted to achieve democratic or judicial reform. After the movement ended, a large number of young, proactive participants and group leaders also joined the group.
However, during the process of creating a new political party, a natural split occurred — probably related to the proposed party’s orientation or policies — out of which two separate parties formed: the New Power Party (NPP) and the provisionally named Social Democratic Party (SDP). According to publicly available information, the difference between the two parties is that the New Power Party is aimed at young people, whereas the SDP is more focused toward representing disadvantaged groups.
There are also the groups that formed after the Sunflower movement, such as the Wing of Radical Politics. These groups have also adopted Taiwanese consciousness as a founding principle, proposing to first deal with the nation’s political orientation and then tackle the problem of cross-strait crony capitalism. Recently the Alliance of Referendum for Taiwan has also been making preparations for a similar left-wing, pro-independence party.
For most people, the term “third force” implies the transcendence of conventional pan-green and pan-blue politics. In Taiwan, green usually refers to supporters of independence, and blue to supporters of unification with China. A number of the new, post-Sunflower movement political groups have Taiwanese consciousness at their ideological heart, and as such advocate the foundation of Taiwan as an independent nation. These groups do not belong to a third force, but instead belong to the green wing of traditional blue-green political spectrum.
Post-Sunflower movement political discourse has centered around making a choice between being either for or against unification with China. Discussion has centered around the direction of movement for Taiwan’s political development, which, it is argued, should be focused on how to successfully resist China.
This line of thought should have been adopted back in 2005, when former vice president Lien Chan (連戰), who was then Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman, announced the party’s pro-unification policy. If this discussion had taken place earlier, the public would not have allowed President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to cooperate with China in its scheme to annex Taiwan through the signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, which sowed the seeds of the present political crisis.
A new third force that is simply founded upon the subjective notions of unification or independence would be a mistake. Put another way, people are only able to adopt the diametrically opposed positions of supporting or opposing unification with China.
For the sake of Taiwan’s well-being, it is essential to successfully resist the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and prevent the nation from being swallowed up. During the process of the KMT changing from an anti-CCP party into a pro-CCP party, it has thrown away the possibility of being a party that supports the interests of Taiwan and simultaneously lost the ability to be a legitimate national political party. The slogan on the lips of young Taiwanese: “If the KMT does not fall, Taiwan will never get better,” reflects this view.
The anti-service trade pact Sunflower movement was, at its heart, an anti-China, anti-unification movement; and last year’s nine-in-one elections — which the KMT lost so badly — were a reflection of the strong disgust voters felt toward the pro-unification shenanigans of the KMT.
While both the old and new political movements will invariably continue to discuss the “China factor,” it is hard to imagine a new political force that would be able to win broad support by standing on a platform that advocated unification with China. Of course, advocating a purely anti-China stance will not mean that it will also be possible to resolve the problem of Taiwan’s political orientation. It is important, at a later stage, to observe how the new political parties deal with this issue.
Since the pan-blue and pan-green camps both lean to the right in terms of economic policy, the so-called “third force” that transcends traditional blue-green politics has come to imply the formation of political parties that lean to the left. Left-wing parties have for a long time been branded as communist by the KMT. The dissemination of left-wing ideas was suppressed and its movements were thwarted. It was impossible to discuss left-wing politics in universities. Trades unions and workers’ organizations were not allowed to evolve naturally.
On the other hand, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has for a long time had a close relationship with the workers’ movement. However, as DPP politicians gradually joined the establishment — in particular during former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) terms of office — they allowed themselves to become sucked into the nepotistic, crony-capitalist system. With their hands on the levers of power, DPP politicians drifted further away from supporting the interests of workers.
After Ma and the KMT swept to power, the egregious negligence of workers’ rights has become clearly apparent in the various protests by workers over closed factories, ex-Hualon Corp employees and former freeway toll collectors. From the government’s laissez-faire attitude regarding the rocketing housing market, to the widening gap between rich and poor and the stagnation of workers’ salaries, the examples are numerous.
If a new political force really does form, Taiwanese will hope that a left-wing party emerges that is willing to tackle the crony-capitalists.
The best hope for the political development of Taiwan is for the anti-China camp to continue to put pressure on the pro-unification KMT until it has no power left. Then the left-wing, anti-China political groups can constrain the DPP — whose economic stance favors tycoons and plutocrats — and at the same time stop the DPP from continuing to become more like the KMT.
Following the Sunflower movement, the DPP attracted a great deal of support from young Taiwanese who were already awake to the truth and consciously anti-China in their outlook. Certainly, these new supporters will help to prevent the DPP from further cozying up to Beijing.
Perhaps Ko Wen-je’s (柯文哲) election as Taipei mayor is a manifestation of the anti-China camp’s shift to the left; Ko’s robust stance against nepotism and response to the Chinese government provide a clue toward his political convictions.
The left-wing political block in Taiwan is an extremely broad church, capable of accommodating a wide range of differing views; as such, it provides an important space for the development of new political forces. Unfortunately, the current electoral system favors candidates from wealthy backgrounds. The system must be reformed, otherwise Ko’s success will be seen as a rare exception to the rule.
A top priority, aside from channeling a section of the new civic force toward participating in the left-wing, anti-China political block, is to encourage those who currently have no intention of participating in the political process to take part in civic movements aimed at reform of the electoral system.
This will allow both old and new anti-China political forces not affiliated with the DPP to take their rightful places on the left-wing political stage.
Leung Man-to is a political science professor at National Cheng Kung University.
Translated by Edward Jones
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