Sun, May 10, 2009 - Page 8

Echoes of a dictatorship

In her latest book, Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein describes how then-Spanish prime minister Jose Aznar’s reaction to the 2004 Madrid train bombings almost destroyed public support for his party. At the time, Aznar incorrectly and rashly blamed Basque separatists for the bombing and then argued that negotiations were neither possible nor desirable. Instead, he claimed that “only with firmness can we end these attacks.”

Klein wrote of Madrid newspaper editor Jose Soler’s reaction to Aznar’s comments — feelings that many Taiwanese might find resonance with today. Soler explained that “we are still hearing the echoes of Franco. In every act, in every gesture, in every sentence, Aznar told the people he was right, that he was the owner of the truth and those who disagreed with him were the enemies.” The public seemed to agree with Soler and punished Aznar’s pro-Franco party by handing it a substantial no vote at the ballot box.

President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) attempts to revise historical records in favor of the Republic of China (ROC) on the issue of sovereignty transfer in the Treaty of Taipei are a classic example of Ma telling the public that his spurious reading of international law is right and those who argue Taiwan’s status is undecided — among them the US government — are wrong and interfering in “warming cross-strait relations.”

From the renaming of National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall to ordering police to confiscate national flags during a Chinese envoy’s visit, restricting freedom of assembly and attempting to lend legitimacy to the ROC government’s rule over Taiwan, while turning a blind eye to illegal syndicates who harrass and intimidate people who oppose the Ma administration, Taiwanese are hearing echoes of the Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) regime.

The Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) near-absolute political control has made it impervious to criticism and led to a feeling of self-righteousness within the party and amongst government officials.

With so many KMT chefs in the kitchen hoping to skim some fat off the soup, there exists a problem of a vacuum of responsibility and accountability at the heart of Taiwan’s democracy that will not be resolved until the president can demonstrate that he has the political capital, for example, to make law enforcement officials more tolerant of his critics.

If the president hopes Taiwanese democracy would be more about substance than appearance, why doesn’t he demand that negotiations with China be carried out in the open rather than in secret?