Mon, Mar 20, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Legal base needed to safeguard democracy

By Chiou Wen-tsong 邱文聰

Since taking office, US President Donald Trump has taken a series of measures that infringe upon human rights and the value of diversity. He has not only ordered a travel ban on Muslim immigrants and removed gender-neutral restrooms in schools established under former US president Barack Obama’s administration, but has also attempted to mislead the public by accusing the media of spreading “fake news” when they were only doing their job.

In a way, it seems Trump is taking the US into the post-democracy era, but fortunately the nation has a relatively strong system of constitutional checks and balances, which requires the separation of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial branches.

US society has also resorted to a variety of legal methods to counter Trump’s controversial policies.

However, who would have thought that the country’s more than 200-year-old democratic traditions and the progress it has made in human rights over the past half-century could be used to temporarily stop a madman from completely nullifying its democratic achievements?

Since President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) assumed office, Beijing has suspended all talks with the Taiwanese government in an attempt to boycott her administration, shelving meetings for previously ongoing negotiations and postponing signed agreements.

At home, the Tsai administration also faces a standoff with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) over the latter’s ill-gotten assets.

Immediately after pushing through a new five-day workweek policy and struggling to pass two other policies on Japanese food imports from areas affected by the 2011 Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant disaster and on gay marriage, the Tsai administration has busied itself with reforming the pension and judicial systems.

Although a cross-strait oversight bill has been on the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) priority agenda since around the time Tsai took office, it appears that, due to a variety of domestic and international factors, her administration is no longer serious about making it a priority.

The bill, which was proposed during former president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration and once thought to be the most important means to help counter pressure from China, is now being mocked by several media outlets for being “a dog leash without a dog,” because Beijing has suspended all talks with Taiwan and most people do not believe that the DPP will concede to China’s demands.

Nevertheless, how well can the nation’s legal infrastructure protect it from political challenges over the next 10 to 20 years?

When cross-strait talks resume, whether voluntarily or as a result of pressure from Beijing, will society be able to monitor the government and safeguard democracy through mechanisms ensuring an open flow of information, public participation in the decisionmaking process and the protection of human rights?

Moreover, should there be increased pressure on Taiwan to move toward unification with China, what legal instrument could Taiwan use to maintain its de facto independence?

The critical issue is not whether the DPP would sell out to China, but rather how much it is willing to do to enhance Taiwan’s legal infrastructure to protect its democracy.

Chiou Wen-tsong is an associate research fellow at the Institutum Iurisprudentiae at Academia Sinica.

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