Concluding the large “Fury” (火大) protest in Taipei on Jan. 13, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) announced plans to seek the recall of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators who have “failed to listen to the voice of the people” and possibly President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).
Such an effort, though deriving from justifiable anger at the Ma administration’s less-than-stellar performance on a variety of fronts, cannot serve as a stand-in for actual policy alternatives on the opposition’s part.
In fact, the recall of officials, which the smaller Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) has since said it would support, is a non-policy that, if mishandled, could undermine the democratic foundations of this country and end up hurting the opposition’s image.
Aside from making the DPP and TSU sound bitter for failing to secure more seats in last year’s legislative elections, recall plans set a precedent that could come back to haunt them in future. Most problematic is how one defines a legislator’s failure to “listen to the voice of the people” — and who gets to do so.
Although the “recall list” has yet to be unveiled, it has already become clear that the DPP’s definition of “failure” coincides perfectly with a target’s opposition to DPP policies. In other words, DPP policies and “the people” are one and the same, though the extent to which the people will have input in the recall decisions remains to be seen.
There is undeniable danger in a political party resorting to undemocratic tactics — however much one resents the policies adopted by some KMT legislators, those legislators were elected by the public — to solve problems. Unless a legislator has actually broken the law or it has demonstrated that he or she is undermining national security through his or her actions, their removal, much as that of government officials, should be conducted through democratic procedures. This is why elections are held on a regular basis, so that voters can use their retributive powers to remove the bad weeds.
By seeking to work around the system, and by having final say as to which legislators pass muster and which do not, the DPP and the TSU arrogate upon themselves powers that share too many attributes with authoritarianism for comfort.
And in the end, even if the opposition succeeded in removing reprobate legislators, they would find themselves in the same position as insurrectionists who, after toppling a loathed government or political system, are then responsible for running the country. Removing governments is the easy part; governing a nation is where the real challenge lies and for that, one needs a viable alternative in the form of policies that appeal to the public and that can be implemented.
Opposition for the sake of opposition, or the even more drastic removal of elected officials, falls short of meeting public expectations and by no means ensures that come the next elections, the opposition will be able to secure the votes it needs to make progress within the system.
The DPP is perfectly justified in mobilizing against the Ma administration and the KMT, as opinion polls attest to sky-high discontent with their performance. However, channeling that discontent is itself insufficient to turn the DPP and its allies into a political force to be reckoned with, and one that Taiwanese will be willing to give another shot at running the country.
What is needed, above all, lies in the realm of ideas, of strategies to appeal to the polity on both sides of the divide and to the ever-crucial middle ground. So far, Su has failed on that count.