Mon, Aug 28, 2006 - Page 3 News List

Analysis: Taiwan feeling democratic growing pains

FUMBLING FORWARDAppeals to morality, the use of mass campaigns were signs that the nation's democracy is still maturing, analysts said

By Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  STAFF REPORTER

Ahead of the start of a mass sit-in aimed at ousting President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), who is under siege over corruption charges, political analysts said the nation was feeling its way toward becoming a mature democracy.

The campaign initiated by former Democratic Progressive Party chairman Shih Ming-teh (施明德) appears to have gained more support than those launched by the pan-blue camp -- a vote to recall Chen in the legislature and a nationwide signature drive, among others.

Shih collected some NT$111 million (US$3.37 million) in just seven working days, after calling on the public to each donate NT$100 as a mark of commitment to the campaign, which Shih's camp said proved that at least 1 million people backed the sit-in protest demanding Chen's resignation.

The campaign, however, has sparked concerns, with high-profile Taiwanese writers Richard Leen (李家同) and Lung Ying-tai (龍應台) publishing articles in local media that say taking to the streets is not necessarily the best choice for the country.

Commenting on the anti-Chen campaign, Ku Chung-Hwa (顧忠華), professor of sociology at National Chengchi University, said that it provided an outlet for people to release their discontent about Chen, but he doubted they would be able to accomplish their goal.

"I am not surprised at the huge amount of money Shih has raised within a short time, and I don't think the number of 1 million people has special meaning," Ku said.

"When half of the voters, about 6 million, are against Chen at the very beginning and the NT$100 donation is used as a way for them to participate in the anti-Chen campaign, the legitimacy of the appeal is questionable," he added.

Ku praised Shih for arousing people's sense of justice and promoting the idea that government corruption is unacceptable in launching his campaign.

But he said that the value of the campaign would be limited if it was targeted at Chen and failed to facilitate changes that helped prevent corruption.

"For example, they should bring up ideas such as enacting anti-corruption bills and establishing an independent investigative and prosecutorial system," Ku said, referring to stalled political reforms.

Shih said on Aug. 12, when he announced the campaign, that its only goal would be to depose the president and it would not end until Chen chose to step down.

"It is people's right to stage demonstrations in a democracy, where different opinions should be respected, and what the demonstrators are demanding does not always have to be accepted," said Michael Hsiao (蕭新煌), professor of sociology at National Taiwan University.

Until Chen was found to have been involved in corrupt dealings, Hsiao said that calls for his resignation were actually based on the idea of morality.

"I am not saying that appeals on moral grounds cannot be strong enough to cause a president's resignation, but it should be considered only after constitutional procedures and judicial procedure are completed, given that we live in a democracy ruled by laws," Hsiao said.

He said that Taiwan was not yet a mature democracy where "morality, violence and religion" should all take a back seat to law and order.

Speaking of the anti-Chen campaign, as well as religious leaders' comments on politics and an incident in which a former lawmaker attacked a political commentator during a live TV news talk show, Hsiao concluded that Taiwan was still learning how to become a mature democracy.

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