How much is too much? Taiwanese have witnessed what appears to be a rapid derailing of their democratic system — with the government playing the role of destroyer rather than guardian of democracy.
As the Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research cut its GDP growth forecast for this year from 3.63 percent to 2.28 percent, Taiwanese cannot possibly be unaware that an important part of their lives has been gradually taken away.
A service trade agreement between Taiwan and China was signed last month with neither an impact assessment report nor prior consultation with local businesses.
Four houses in Dapu Borough (大埔), Miaoli County, which got in the way of the development of a science park were demolished despite the government’s pledge to keep them standing.
Several university professors and students were detained for offenses against public safety, although they were simply shouting slogans in protest of the Dapu demolition near where President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was visiting.
After army corporal Hung Chung-chiu’s (洪仲丘) mysterious death, the government ignored the public’s outrage and calls to involve civilian prosecutors.
Ma and his Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) insist on placing controversial policies — the construction of the the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City, and the service trade pact — on the agenda of an extra session and pushing them through the legislature.
Taiwanese are beginning to wonder if Taiwan is truly a shining beacon of democracy in Asia and whether the country might revert to the police state it was 30 years ago. They feel helpless because it seems that no democratic mechanism or protest can change the direction the country is headed.
Advocates will continue their fight against injustice with numerous protests across the country. However, a scenario like the one in Egypt where more than 17 million protesters ousted the national leaders, is not likely to happen in Taiwan.
That is where the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), as the largest opposition party, comes in. Rather than the party’s China policy, on which everyone seems to have an opinion and which is regarded as vitally important for the party to win the presidential election, what is more important for the DPP now is to be a leader of the people and to take bold and comprehensive domestic initiatives.
For too long, the DPP has been a party that thrived on electoral campaigns. Unfortunately, there are no major elections between the presidential election last year and the seven-in-one elections at the end of next year. Perhaps that explains why the party has struggled to function as a proactive opposition with vision and well-rounded policy recommendations and has had a hard time winning support.
Instead, the party has passively issued press releases and offered verbal support to civic movements. Party members have tried to garner media and public attention not by intra-party discussions, but by posting messages and rants on their Facebook pages.
The sarcastic nicknames of “statement party” and “Facebook party” given to the DPP are fair against the backdrop of people’s helplessness and anger.
The DPP could organize mass protests, but it should do more, such as forcing direct dialogue between Ma, opposition parties and society; making moves that challenge the administration’s ineffective governance; and changing the “status quo” of a dysfunctional democracy.
The party needs a stronger DPP as much as the Taiwanese people do. It is not enough to merely “stand on the same side as the public.” The DPP needs to lead the way in safeguarding democratic values, civic rights and people’s livelihoods first, and let the public decide if it will win the 2016 election.