The Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) era ends tomorrow at 9am. While it may require the passage of time to objectively assess his two terms in office, most agree that it was an eventful and historically important eight years.
Chen and Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮), both born in Taiwan, won the election in 2000. Despite being reputed to hold a hard-line stance on Taiwan’s independence, Chen tried to adopt a “new middle way” in the beginning of his term and offered to resume cross-strait talks under the 1992 spirit of bilateral communication. But Beijing’s rejection of his offer compelled Chen to revert to his old strategy.
Pressured by Beijing and opposition at home, Chen was forced to fight for political survival. And once he took this road, there was no turning back.
Stephen Yates, president of DC Asia Advisory, a Washington-based consulting firm, said Chen would go down in history as the first president to govern Taiwan with a divided government.
“No one imagined in 2000 just how divided it was and would remain throughout Chen’s time in office,” Yates said.
Opposition vigorously challenged the legitimacy of Chen’s election victories and engaged in highly partisan cross-strait diplomacy, undermining his stature and influence as president.
Yates suggested that while Chen may have brought many difficulties on himself, “it is also true that the structural and partisan obstacles he faced would have challenged the most gifted politician.”
Political analyst Antonio Chiang (江春男), former Taipei Times editor-in-chief and former National Security Council deputy secretary-general, said that Chen’s biggest achievements were strengthening Taiwan-centered consciousness, national identity and values such as democracy, freedom and human rights.
Democracy took a new form under Chen’s presidency, expanding from political democracy to community democracy, “environmental democracy” and direct democracy, Chiang said.
The status of ethnic groups such as Hakkas and Aboriginals also improved and multi-culturalism was respected, he said.
Despite political differences, cross-strait relations were peaceful and exchanges were vibrant, he said.
According to the annual report released on April 30 by the US-based Freedom House, Taiwan’s media environment is the freest in East Asia and No. 32 worldwide.
The report, which rated 195 countries and territories, attributed Taiwan’s good performance to a commitment to judicial independence, economic freedom and a highly competitive media market.
In addition to strengthening Taiwan-centered consciousness, Liu Shih-chung (劉世忠), a former close aide to Chen, said that Chen deserved credit for institutionalizing referendums and nationalizing the armed forces, which was previously used as the military arm of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).
Liu, former deputy chief of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Research and Planning Committee, also commended Chen’s efforts in developing personal relationships with the leaders of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies.
But the DPP administration waited too long to tackle the issue of transitional justice, Chiang said.
Transitional justice refers to a range of approaches that states undertake to deal with legacies of widespread or systematic human rights abuse as the nation moves from a period of violent conflict or oppression toward democracy, the rule of law and respect for individual and collective rights.