As the nine-in-one elections draw near, a new generation of voters continues to emerge. It has a different experience from its forebears, and different priorities. It is called “generation D,” the post-democracy generation.
Generation D voters — those born from 1990 on — would have started elementary school in 1996 or after, when Taiwan had its first full democratic election for president and legislators. They only know a democratic Taiwan, and they too often have a hazy idea of the how it came about.
Not long ago, I was talking with a 24-year-old Taiwanese who happened to be from Taipei’s Jingmei Neighborhood (景美).
I asked if she had ever visited the former Jingmei military detention center, an important landmark in Taiwan’s past struggle for democracy.
She did not even know it existed.
A week later, in a separate conversation, I asked a student about the same place — now named the Jingmei Human Rights Memorial.
This student had visited it on a class project and was shocked by the conditions she saw.
However, when I inquired if she knew that former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) and Presidential Office Secretary-General Chen Chu (陳菊) had spent years in prison there, she did not.
The lifting of martial law is not that far past. Yet such is the enjoyment of today’s new democracy that it is almost taken for granted. Forgotten are sufferings of many who are still living, who did time at Jingmei, as well as those who went to Green Island (綠島), so that Taiwan could have its democracy.
This is not an uncommon experience. A comparison might be made with baby boomers in the US — born after 1945. That generation gloried in the peace of the 1950s with no living experience of the struggles and sacrifice of World War II, a war where almost every family lost at least one relation serving in Europe or Asia.
However, baby boomers did have an advantage in memory; they had some idea of that past, world-encompassing war. The burgeoning US film industry churned out numerous “war films” that classified the “good guys” and the “bad guys,” and the price paid by all.
Taiwan’s generation D,” on the other hand, has very few “Martial Law era” films. As a result, many of those who could be classified as “villains” from that era of the struggle for democracy are still around and some even run for office. This muddies the waters.
The voting age in Taiwan is 20, and so generation D voters have participated since the 2010 elections. Each year adds an additional crop to this group and their impact is being noticed. Yet this also creates a generational divide.
Many overseas Taiwanese have a different memory. Their experience and loyalty drives them to frequently pay the added expense to return to their Taiwan motherland to vote, even in non-presidential election years. They come because of the strength of their past blue or green experience.
In Taiwan’s electoral landscape, this is the gap that must be bridged. Each generation has its needs and perceived direction that it wishes the nation to take. The generation D voters find that they might vote more for the person and issues than a party, because they carry less baggage from the past.
Faced with this reality, all parties now find it increasingly important to have more viable candidates. They cannot just put up a person with little talent simply because that person has been a loyal party member.
The political parties must also acknowledge that young people’s lack of knowledge of the past does not mean that they do not care for the nation. The 2014 Sunflower movement was driven by young people who were too wary that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)-dominated Legislative Yuan would give blanket approval to the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement with China with little discussion of the many items in it.
The subsequent rise of the New Power Party is further evidence of this change. The party appeals more to the youth and came into being because of the growing dissatisfaction with both the KMT and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in addressing the newer needs of the nation.
This is how the results of the Nov. 24 elections must be interpreted.
I have already predicted that KMT Taipei mayoral candidate Ting Shou-chung (丁守中) has the best chance to win with a split between supporters of independent Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) and Pasuya Yao (姚文智) of the DPP (“Ko unlikely to be re-elected mayor,” July 5, page 8).
If Ting wins, this should not be taken as a sign that the KMT is back, or that it can recharge the fake “1992 consensus” or try to rekindle the “Greater China Dream.” Those myths died in the nine-in-one losses of 2014 and the 2016 presidential and legislative shellacking that the KMT took.
Today’s landscape is further complicated with the new low bar for referendums and the lowering of the referendum voting age to 18. This election has 10 referendums, which will certainly be affected by the growing generation D.
Communication between young and old continues to be needed. The youth with their own vision for the future must still learn about the past and reassure its generation that they will not abandon their hard-won democracy.
At the same time, older party members must also be aware of the changing needs of young people and put forth viable candidates and referendum proposals.
Older people might wish to protect the past, but it is the young who must live in the future.
The past generation must trust that young people can see the difference between a democratic Taiwan and a stultifying China, even if China might have better jobs.
Taiwan’s landscape is changing. Smooth sailing is not guaranteed.
Remember that even in the US, the peaceful 1950s were replaced with the Peace Movement, the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War protests of the tumultuous 1960s.
As the baby boomers came of age, their inspiration came from those born a little earlier — from 1940 on. Those people started elementary school in 1946 when World War II had just ended. They added this memorable phrase to US politics: “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”
Be prepared Taiwan, as democracy grows, the times may be a-changing.
Jerome Keating is a writer based in Taipei.
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