The nations of East Asia and Alaska are important to each other in many ways. People from Alaska, in the US, have watched Taiwan make its transition to democracy and develop into a full-fledged free and democratic nation.
During last year’s presidential and legislative elections, an observer mission was organized by the International Committee for Fair Elections in Taiwan (ICFET), an international group of 19 academics from eight countries. The group concluded that while the elections were free, they were also partly unfair, as the playing field was not level, and stacked in favor of the ruling party.
Through appropriate checks and balances, the people in Taiwan can hopefully ensure that the 2016 elections will be free and fair.
While during the past 25 years Taiwan has made great progress toward democracy, there remain sharp differences about the overall direction of the country, as well as the quality of the judicial and legislative systems.
Hopefully, the new year will bring renewed efforts to bring about much-needed judicial and legislative reforms.
The judicial system still has some characteristics inherited from the martial law period. Many in the legal community have advocated judicial reform, but too often there is built-in inertia.
On the legislative side there is too often a stalemate due to the long-standing political divide.
It is time for new and charismatic leaders to come to the fore, who can bridge the political divide and bring about a political reconciliation in Taiwan.
To state the situation clearly: It is of no use to try to bring about a rapprochement across the Taiwan Strait if there is no political consensus within Taiwan.
First there needs to be a broad-based agreement among the Taiwanese about the future direction of their country. Only then can there be a unified approach that will lead to long-term stability, within Taiwan as well as across the Strait.
There is another key requirement that will need to be fulfilled in order to bring about an internal political reconciliation in Taiwan: a medical parole for former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).
According to recent reports from Taiwan, he is suffering from serious physical and mental ailments brought about by the deplorable conditions under which he was detained.
Whatever his misdeeds, he did not deserve to be treated in this way. He was a key leader in Taiwan’s transition to democracy, and is seen by many in the pro-democracy camp as a symbolic figure who helped bring about an end to more than five decades of one-party rule in Taiwan.
A medical parole on humanitarian grounds would help start a healing process designed to bring about more social and political unity in the country.
The political divide can only be bridged if both sides of the political spectrum move forward toward a Taiwan consensus in which all parties agree that Taiwan’s future lies in being a vibrant democracy that is a free and full member of the international family of nations.
Frank Murkowski is a former governor of Alaska (2002 to 2006) and spent 22 years in the US Senate.