Mon, Apr 25, 2016 - Page 8 News List

Electing leaders and accountability

By Jerome Keating

No matter where you are in the world, it is nearly impossible to avoid the US presidential election campaign. With little love lost, participants in the US’ two major parties — the Republicans and the Democrats — are heatedly vying to be selected as their party’s candidate.

This process is still in the primary stage and there is clearly more to come, but already names such as “lying Ted” are being bandied about; tax records are fair game; past performances are raked over with a fine tooth comb, and even wives and family members are targets.

It might not be pretty, but it is democracy and accountability in action, and it is that democratic process of leadership selection that continually points out a major difference between democratic nations such as the US and Taiwan, and one-party states such as the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

What is happening now in the US happened in Taiwan before the January presidential elections, albeit in a much less vitriolic manner. In Taiwan, with three parties vying for the presidency, the candidates from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the People First Party squared off in debates, answering questions from moderators and challenging each other with questions. Vice presidential candidates also debated.

The role of the debates is to help voters see the nation’s potential leaders in action and to examine policy differences. Voters judge how well the candidates articulate their policies and how well they handle the pressure of questions and challenges. When Taiwanese voters selected the DPP’s Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), they knew the candidate and the policies they were getting and what they were rejecting.

In the US, the process is still ongoing; US presidential hopeful Donald Trump, to the surprise of many, has narrowed the Republican field from 17 to three, but despite his strong lead, he might not get the nomination if he enters a contested convention.

A second important and necessary element in democracies is the role of a free media, which continually comments on and questions candidates’ beliefs, track records, values etc. In addition to newspaper, TV and radio coverage, numerous talk shows discuss the pros and cons of each candidate and their actions. Even political parties can participate through campaign ads that promote their candidate and sometimes paint their candidate’s opponent in a negative light; the only restrictions they face are good taste and libel.

At the end of the day voters in a democracy have many perspectives from which to judge candidates. They basically know for whom and what policies they are voting.

Voters get what they choose and if they misjudged, they have another chance in four years. Elected leaders are held accountable for campaign promises, especially when performance does not live up to hype.

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) went through this process. He left the KMT with a poor reputation as he did not keep up with his campaign pledges and with a changing Taiwan. Dissatisfaction with Ma’s performance proved to be as much of a factor in the KMT’s defeat in the January elections, as did uncertainty about the abilities of the KMT candidate, New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫).

Taiwan has also experienced life on the other side of the fence.

Like China, Taiwan has been a one-party state and Taiwanese got to know the opaque, closed door, selection process of leadership that Chinese now experience. They have also experienced the blindness engendered by a state-owned media.

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