Two international academics recently reminded our government that a group of international human rights experts is expected to review Taiwan’s implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) next month, and expressly asked that no executions be carried out until such time. They intimated that, in the absence of any executions, the review was to be a formality only, and that if Taiwan held off on executions until that time, it would be much easier for them to sign off on the review.
Whether he is truly stupid, or just puts on a convincing show of it, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) chose last month, just two months before the review was due, to instruct the minister of justice to sign off on six executions. It was as if he wanted to get them over and done with, in the hope that they would be forgotten by the time the review rolls around. Evidently, the government could not wait until March.
Ma had not been in office for four months in early 2008 before people started questioning his competence, and before the first six months of his second term were up, the British magazine The Economist was calling him a “bumbler.” The main problem was his lack of action or efficiency, causing the majority of the electorate to become disillusioned. Whenever he comes up against criticism, he pretends to be contrite and self-effacing, promising to improve. And how appropriate the words “con” and “trite,” “self” and “face” are. Nothing changes, and then, another round of criticism.
Now in his second term, Ma cannot stand for re-election, so he no longer faces any electoral pressure. What he should be doing is throwing himself into reform. If he were to work to strengthen the nation’s democracy and reinforce social justice, his approval ratings would climb, and history would likely judge him more favorably. Taiwan’s democracy still needs much work. Our social justice mechanisms are not yet effective, and this is leading to some serious sociopolitical problems. Ma promised “complete governance.” Well, he has a majority, and he should be using this advantage to completely restructure the central government and implement congressional, judicial and media reforms.
The central government system remains flawed, even after seven amendments to the Republic of China Constitution. The president still has excessive powers, with no constraints in place. The premier in no way resembles the role of prime minister as stipulated in the Constitution, and instead appears more like the top aide to the president. There are also problems in the relationship between the president, the Cabinet and the legislature. Ma should be instigating comprehensive reform via constitutional amendments.
The public is disillusioned with the president and the legislature. The legislature is not fit for its purpose and legislators are all in it for themselves, disdainful of their duty to legislate and, in some cases, guilty of serious corruption. The president should have initiated legislative reform some time ago, but has yet to lift a finger. The media is a knot of problems, and is being concentrated in the hands of huge conglomerates. A pernicious, pro-China group is attempting to get a monopoly on the press in this country, and the government is just standing by and letting it happen, exhibiting absolutely no appetite for reform. Ma should understand that the press is essential for democracy, and he should be doing everything he can to create a media environment conducive to democracy and social justice.
Chiu Hei-yuan is a research fellow at Academia Sinica’s Institute of Sociology.
Translated by Paul Cooper