Most people missed the news: In the middle of last month, the New Power Party (NPP) caucus proposed a motion to change the legislative agenda, urging the Legislative Yuan to pass the second and final readings of draft amendments to the Civil Code to legalize same-sex marriage as soon as possible.
However, with only the support of NPP lawmakers, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Tuan Yi-kang (段宜康) and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Jason Hsu (許毓仁), the motion was voted down by a wide margin.
Most of the lawmakers who voted against the motion were DPP legislators, while the KMT boycotted the vote. Since a legislative committee passed the first reading of the marriage equality act in late 2016, the legislative process has been constantly delayed.
DPP Legislator Yu Mei-nu (尤美女), who initiated the bill, even voted against the motion, blocking her own bill from a review.
It might be too early to accuse the DPP of breaking its campaign pledge to support the amendment. After all, when the Council of Grand Justices in May last year issued Constitutional Interpretation No. 748 in support of same-sex marriage, it said that the law should be amended within two years — so there is still one year left.
Nonetheless, now that President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) firm support for same-sex marriage during her presidential campaign has changed to one of ambiguity, the future of progressive politics in the nation looks dark.
The DPP has obviously downplayed the issue of same-sex marriage — an indicator of progress — in a bid to win the Nov. 24 local elections. While a pro-LGBT stance might be beneficial in a presidential election, it might be a drawback in local elections, especially as many of the DPP’s elected representatives do not believe in same-sex marriage.
The party is trying to prevent the issue from backfiring or blowing up in its face by delaying it until after the elections. This is clearly a rational political calculation arrived at after weighing the pros and cons.
The DPP was established in 1986, right before the lifting of martial law the following year, a time when both democracy and progress were desirable concepts.
Democracy is a very concrete idea that has enabled people to regain the right to be their own masters, while progress has a romantic, brighter sense and, although abstract, covers a wider area. The two words are complementary and carried a rich significance at the time.
However, 30 years later, the two concepts have become contradictory. The DPP is often more conservative when it is eager to win a democratic election. This backward trend is not limited to the same-sex marriage issue, and the party is heading in the opposite direction of progress on almost every issue that Taiwan’s social movements have supported along the way.
This is understandable, because democracy is direct and simple, or at least it is easier to make choices, while progress is abstract and complex, as it changes dynamically depending on time and context. A progressive concept usually involves both the deconstruction and reconstruction of one’s belief.
Sometimes, it is even necessary to destroy voters’ “self-
narrative,” leaving them at a loss at to what to do, and it will take a great effort to rebuild the meaning of the past-present-future chain of belief.
This means that progress is a kind of creative destruction that changes with the times — what German philosopher Immanuel Kant said was a characteristic of a modern enlightened person.
However, such enlightened people have not played a key role in the nation’s social development over the past half century. The leading forces that created the economic miracle and democratic transformation of Taiwan were instead a collective who devoted themselves selflessly to the values of some organization.
This is the tricky part: Taiwan’s past achievements were built by this collective who lacked a progressive concept.
However, here is an appropriate reminder: Growing up in the Internet age, will the younger generation also become part of this collective who can only act according to the analyses of political commentators? If the DPP wants to maintain the upper hand amid this global turbulence, should it continue to sacrifice progress for democracy?
French President Emmanuel Macron shot to the presidency like a rocket. He won the election with his new world view and ability to convince new voters with his grand rhetoric.
Macron has used progress to lead democracy, while working hard to save democracy from being vulgarized. With the attitude that if he lost, it would be a glorious defeat, he instead became the youngest president in French history.
Looking at Taiwan’s current problems, I can only try to be an optimist and hope that the next president will be someone from the crowd on Ketagalan Boulevard during the 2014 Sunflower movement — someone who we have not yet had the pleasure to meet.
Chan Wei-hsiung is a cultural commentator.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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