In a recent speech, Chinese dissident Wuer Kaixi raised the issue of why millions of residents in Beijing who had generously donated food and protected student protesters during the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre had suddenly stopped this kind of active engagement in they realized that the democracy and freedoms they had previously thought they were fighting for were fanciful concepts that simply did not exist. As a result, they decided they would no longer engage in politics, under the mistaken impression that by not engaging in politics they would not feel powerless or frustrated.
The public developed a sense of apathy and powerlessness with democratic politics and human rights struggles. The subsequent crackdown by the Chinese government was a wake-up call to all of them. For the sake of their own survival, they decided to isolate themselves.
This sense of powerlessness about protecting cherished hopes and ideals, and bewilderment about the future, mirrors the feelings of many Taiwanese after the failure of the no-confidence motion against the Cabinet on Tuesday last week. The hopes of those who had wanted to see a change in the Cabinet were quashed by the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) legislative majority.
All of a sudden, their hopes for democratic development were dashed the moment the KMT legislators voted according to the party line. In the near future, the sense of powerlessness about party politics might gradually turn into a into disgust for politics.
After its no-confidence motion failed, the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) caucus announced that it would boycott all interparty negotiations. This shows the DPP already feels ennui in the face of a monolithic KMT legislative majority. When the political turmoil that started last month broke out, the DPP caucus supported Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) in order to protect DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-ming’s (柯建銘) good name. The DPP was tricked by both Wang and the KMT in the no-confidence motion.
Even more frustrating was the fact that DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) then announced the party would push for a recall of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), ignoring the DPP caucus’ silence and impotence. If Su’s push for a recall fails, the ennui will spread from the DPP caucus to its leadership and then to local party branches.
Overcoming helplessness among the party faithful is no easy task and will take time. The DPP caucus should not boycott interparty negotiations and force Wang to keep his promise to push for legislative reforms or the establishment of a committee to investigate the government’s involvement in the wiretapping scandal. For its supporters, the DPP can launch petitions to recall KMT lawmakers in certain electoral districts where potential DPP candidates have a chance to win, so the grassroots activists can regain their enthusiasm for politics.
Ironically, whenever opposition parties decide to confront major political or historical events, doom immediately sets in due to procrastination or lack of previous successes. The opposition should not blame the unfair “single-member electoral district system,” because it has been unable to improve on the system since its implementation in 2008. Thus is the burden borne by opposition parties.
Withdrawing from politics or shutting down is no answer. If the DPP merely adopts a vapid moral, or impossible constitutional, strategy, it will quickly squander whatever passion grassroots supporters still maintain.
The opposition should seize the day and deal with the predicament it now finds itself in, boosting the morale of its supporters. It should review the government’s budget strictly and professionally, while launching recall petitions against KMT lawmakers in certain electoral districts. Legislative reform can come through many small victories.
Chen Chien-fu is coordinator of Monitoring Internet Video on Demand for Citizen Congress Watch.
Translated by Eddy Chang