“‘Who rules here?’ I asked.
“They said: ‘The people, naturally.’
“I said: ‘Naturally the people, but who really rules?’”
This poem, titled “In the Capital,” is from a collection titled 100 Poems Without a Country by Erich Fried (1921-1988), a Jewish German-language poet who was born in Vienna and was exiled to London during World War II. It reminds me of a scene in real life.
During former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman Lin I-hsiung’s (林義雄) term as party chairman, Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was elected president. Lin then withdrew from the party during Chen’s first term.
On Wednesday, the People Rule Foundation (人民作主基金會), in which Lin has been deeply involved, began a relay hunger strike in front of DPP headquarters in Taipei, which is set to continue until May 11.
Lin is also expected to participate in the hunger strike. The participants demand that the party pass an amendment to the Referendum Act (公民投票法) by May 20.
Who is ruling Taiwan at the moment: the DPP or the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)?
The DPP is in complete control of the government, as it holds both the presidency and the legislative majority. This is an expression of the public expectation that the nation leave the one-party state behind once and for all and that the DPP help build a new nation.
As the party holds the legislative majority and President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) marks the first anniversary of her presidency, the question arises: What new policies and what renewal of the nation has the government introduced? Supporters of the DPP and Tsai have a right to place high expectations on them.
For example, take the proposed amendments to the Referendum Act. For the sake of Taiwan’s democratic development, it is necessary to break the restrictions of this “birdcage referendum act” and rely on direct democracy and referendums to strengthen the legislature — which continues to have its hands tied by the remnants of the party-state — and free Taiwan from the politics of old.
This is necessary to complement Taiwan’s democratic development, and a requirement for consolidating the democratic experience. As the majority party, the DPP must not betray public expectations.
Lin’s calls for a referendum on halting the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant project were not only about opposition to nuclear power, but also aimed at promoting people’s political right to hold referendums and be their own masters.
Allowing the right of initiative or referendum is not only a matter of sharing the power in a representative democracy, it also makes politics healthier and more complete.
Taiwan should follow other developed democracies that use referendums to grant people the right to be their own masters.
With the DPP in power, the Taiwanese are their own masters. This is the original goal of not only the party, but all Taiwanese who have tried to reform politics. After 38 years of the KMT’s martial law and one-party dictatorship, Taiwan’s democracy movement has come a long way.
However, we must understand that a nation belongs to its people: The DPP should mark the anniversary of Tsai’s presidency on May 20 by passing the amendments to the Referendum Act.
Lee Min-yung is a poet.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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