The storm caused by the events of last month has yet to blow over, but there is already a consensus among the vast majority of the public that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), still not halfway through his second term, does not have what it takes to be president.
Things are going from bad to worse, from the failings of governance to the abuses visited on the public by a merciless regime. Taiwanese are beginning to see that Ma has not only failed to learn from the errors of his first term and tried to start anew, attempting to understand the sufferings of ordinary people, but he has let things go even further, pushing even more people into desperation.
From the crisis of trust to the mess he has made of constitutional government, it has become apparent that, far from giving the public a new sense of hope and a way forward, by giving Ma another four years in office we have allowed the return of the specter of the White Terror era and let the nation fall back under the shadow of autocratic government.
After two transitions of political power, Taiwan’s democracy is not yet fully consolidated and there is much more that needs to be done to further human rights guarantees. No one could have anticipated that the democratic capital that the nation has accumulated over decades of sacrifice and struggle could be squandered so wantonly in a short few years.
The legislature is supposed to represent the public, the people who should be in charge in a democracy and to keep the government in check. However, with Ma’s control over the legislature, it has become little more than a rubber stamp for his projects. Neither is there any evidence of the legislature carrying out its constitutional duty in dealing with Ma’s destabilizing, unconstitutional actions, or initiating investigations into them.
How is it that the fragile trust that Taiwanese had gradually rebuilt — with the greatest tolerance and patience — in the judiciary could be brought crashing down by Ma,
Prosecutor-General Huang Shih-ming (黃世銘) and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) almost overnight?
On one side, Ma and Huang violated the Constitution and abused wiretapping in an attempted political purge, and on the other Wang allegedly resorted to abuse of power and improper lobbying of the judiciary.
Between them, Ma, Vice President Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) and Wang have wrought havoc with Taiwan’s constitutional government. And yet, there they were at the Double Ten National Day celebrations on Thursday last week, at the end of Ketagalan Boulevard, these senior officials who have, and who continue to, ride roughshod over human rights and the rule of law.
It would be funny if it were not so damn tragic.
It is hard to understand what there was to celebrate that day, when the storm that our democracy is desperately trying to ride out was still raging. Were we perhaps celebrating the fact that the edifice of our democracy is still standing, albeit teetering, despite the pernicious machinations of these men?
Or is it our own ability to keep tolerating them, despite the fact that they continue to stamp on our faces, that we are perversely celebrating? It is hard to see how these main culprits — Ma, Wu, Jiang, Wang — can still sit on the stage smiling, with that shifty look in their eyes. What were they smiling at? Were they laughing at how the public can do absolutely nothing about the way they flout the law and abuse their powers? Or is it derisive mirth at how democracy lets them get away with doing as they please?
Ma promised to “govern completely, and accept complete responsibility.” From where we sit today, he has made a mockery of such a pledge. It would have been more accurate had he said that his intention is to “wield absolute power and to throw the government into total chaos.”
Taiwan is in dire straits. What is there to celebrate?
The banners hanging in front of the stage for the Double Ten National Day celebrations, speaking of ensuring stability, harmony and prosperity, read like a cruel joke: They would perhaps have been more accurate had they talked of the obliteration of constitutional order and of the abuse of the populace, or of state surveillance and the crushing of human rights, or of writer George Orwell’s image of the future: “A boot stamping on the human face — forever.”
During Thursday’s celebrations, Citizen 1985 continued its gentle yet persistent quest to awaken the public, calling on the legislature to amend the straitjacket Referendum Act (公民投票法) and the recall laws that rob the citizenry of direct democracy. On that day there were also many angry young men and women who came up to the capital from all around the nation, to descend upon Ketagalan Boulevard and vent their spleens, directly calling on Ma, Wu and Jiang to apologize and resign.
We should no longer expect that this group of incompetent, unprincipled politicians will see the error of their ways and improve, but neither should we continue to tolerate this bunch of senior officials who flout the law and do as they please.
Whether it be driven by youthful anger or the tempered resolve of the more experienced, we should all rise, for the sake of this country, and of our children and grandchildren, and demonstrate that we mean to deal with guilty politicians and save the country.
All we need do is stand together and claim this nation back for ourselves.
Huang Kuo-chang is an associate research professor at the Academia Sinica’s Institutum Iurisprudentiae.
Translated by Paul Cooper