It has been a long time since the Taiwanese public and the opposition parties came out in force and called for attention and assistance from the international community to improve the nation’s human rights and political situation.
The last time it happened was during the 1970s and 1980s, the latter part of the White Terror era when the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government cracked down on all opposition and imprisoned political dissidents. Taiwanese had no choice but to reach out to foreigners, including human rights advocates, lawmakers, journalists and various organizations, hoping that their influential voices would put pressure on the authoritarian regime.
People assume those days are long gone because Taiwan has built connections with the international community through the power of globalization, as well as the means enabled by improved communication technology.
In addition, Taiwan has been praised as a beacon of democracy in Asia since former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) lifted martial law, ended hostilities with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) government and made direct presidential elections possible.
That is why a number of recent appeals to the international community were mind-boggling in a country that was supposed to be a full-fledged democracy.
Former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Woodrow Clark recently urged the government to stop the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, with Lu saying that she would like to “internationalize” the nuclear energy issue in Taiwan after President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and the KMT had ignored the strong opposition to the decades-old plan, in particular after the accident at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant in March last year.
On Dec. 10, Human Rights Day, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) called an international press conference, in which DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌), as well as professionals in the areas of media, legal affairs and human rights, accused the Ma administration of eroding human rights and placing Taiwanese democracy in jeopardy.
What drove them to resort to such measures, if the democratic system in Taiwan had been functioning well, with effective self-correction and sound check-and-balance mechanisms?
Was it because the DPP, along with other opposition parties, had failed in their roles as monitors of the government, and lawmakers who were supposed to do their job in the legislature were trying to garner media attention by “going international”?
Or was it because the president and the KMT, which control the administrative branch and enjoy a clear majority in the Legislative Yuan, as well as a highly unpopular judicial system, had refused to communicate with and listen to the public, leaving them with no choice but to seek help from the outside?
Ironically, while the current administration has been quick to cite Taiwan’s various international rankings as its achievements, when two human rights experts, invited by the government to monitor Taiwan’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, urged Ma to suspend the death penalty, KMT lawmakers were quick to describe the appeal as “foreign interference in [Taiwan’s] internal affairs.”
Taiwanese gave Ma and the KMT a strong mandate in 2008 partly because they had witnessed a divided government’s inability to move the country forward between 2000 and 2008, when the DPP was in power. The last thing on their mind in 2008 was the creation of the nominally democratic authoritarian administration that we see today.
That was why the implications of the international appeals were noteworthy: Because they serve as a warning to Taiwanese about the state of democracy in Taiwan and to the international community about the desperation of the public’s longing to be heard.