Tue, Aug 14, 2007 - Page 3 News List

Nation's democracy needs to be improved, Chen says

By Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  STAFF REPORTER

Although Taiwanese enjoy significant freedoms, the nation's democracy is far from perfect, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) said while addressing academics at a symposium yesterday.

Chen made the opening speech at a forum titled "After the Third Wave: Problems and challenges for the New Democracies" hosted by Taiwan Thinktank.

The president outlined five areas in which he said more effort was required: enhancing national identification, strengthening the legal system, creating a level playing field for political parties, encouraging self-discipline in the media and promoting public awareness of the importance of participation in public affairs.

Nevertheless, he said the nation's progress to democracy was a worthy example for countries such as China.

Chen said that two factors had a profound affect on the nation's democratization: China's military threat and internal disagreement over national identification.

"For a long time, China has opposed Taiwanese efforts to pursue freedom and democracy. It interprets these efforts as attempts to secure de jure independence, and condemns and suppresses them," Chen said.

Chen also spoke of the importance of creating a new constitution, saying the existing one was imposed on the public without their consent.

"To date, Taiwanese have not been allowed to make any changes to the content of the Constitution," Chen said, referring to the fact that previous constitutional amendments have been added to the Constitution in the form of an appendix.

Guillermo O'Donnell, the Helen Kellogg Professor of Government at the University of Notre Dame, gave a keynote speech titled "Democratic Theories after the Third Wave: A Historical Retrospection."

"We are living in a world that exhibits a variety of democracies, not a single or `best model' democracy [that] all of us are expected to somehow reach," O'Donnell said.

He said that democracy did not admit a privileged identity and/or conception of the human being, but rather housed various identities and cultures, although their characteristics and relative weight varied across countries and times.

Democracy is and will always be a process inscribed in an open normative horizon that projects both new hopes and dissatisfactions, O'Donnell said.

"Because it is grounded on the various dimensions of citizenship and on the notion of human dignity that those dimensions entail, democracy posits an always open horizon," he said.

The Argentine scholar said that the weight of tradition, history, culture, international location and other factors generated a variety of democracies.

He said the consequent diversity of democracies was a valuable achievement and that "no particular version of democracy has an a priori claim of superiority."

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