Tue, Jan 14, 2020 - Page 8 News List


Foreigners ignored

It is always good to see Taiwanese flocking to the polling stations to exercise their precious political rights in what can justly be hailed as one of the world’s best-functioning democracies.

Though it is less than three decades since Taiwan embraced democracy, its democratic system puts to shame the failings of much older democracies, such as the US, with the skewing effect of its electoral colleges, and the UK, with its widely condemned first-past-the-post voting system.

Having lived in Taiwan since the mid-1980s, I have borne witness to every election here, and have been nothing but impressed by the order, efficiency and essential fairness of the whole process.

The main pity is that, except for a tiny number of octogenarian priests and others who are permitted to naturalize without having to renounce their original citizenship, the vast majority of us foreign residents are effectively and permanently excluded from access to citizenship and enjoyment of the most basic rights of participation in the affairs of the state where we have made our home.

No matter if we have lived here for decades, working diligently in jobs that cannot be filled by local people, always paying our full share or more of taxes, scrupulously abiding by local law and custom, bringing in money from abroad to invest here, marrying Taiwanese and raising our children as Taiwanese, helping build bridges across the world for Taiwan and cheering for it in the international community, we are forever excluded from citizenship by the unconscionable and insupportable unfairness of Article 9 of the Nationality Act (國籍法).

However much pleased and impressed we might be by closely witnessing Taiwan’s democratic election process, as our spouses, children and in-laws head off excitedly to cast their votes, joining in choosing who gets to make policies and laws that will govern our lives and decide how our tax contributions will be spent, we cannot help but feel pained at our exclusion from participation.

It is especially hard to bear when we encounter canvassers during election campaigning, and are either pointedly ignored, as if we did not exist, or else beseeched for votes that cannot be in our possession to bestow.

Nothing makes me feel more excluded and more of an outsider in Taiwan, and I know that many of my fellow foreign residents feel the same.

When Taiwanese reside in the US, UK, Canada, Australia and many other of our home countries, they are accorded a fast and easy route to naturalization without any need for renouncing their Republic of China citizenship. Why does Taiwan baulk at reciprocating by according the same basic right to suitably qualified foreign residents?

As the world observes and applauds another successful outcome to a round of elections in this model East Asian democracy, wouldn’t it be a good time for the newly elected government to correct the injustice of the law that keeps us foreign residents locked out of the fundamental civil and political rights that this country is so proud to have created for its own people?

Peter Whittle


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