Looking at the state of Taiwan’s democracy on the third year anniversary of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) inauguration, analysts say that the nation’s democratic system faces great challenges during the final year of his term.
Taiwan Democracy Watch (TDW), an organization dedicated to monitoring democracy under the Ma administration, recently issued a grim assessment of the state of democracy in the country, based on the 10 most important events that took place during Ma’s third year in office.
This was TDW’s second assessment of Taiwan’s democracy since the organization was formed in late 2008.
Among this year’s top 10 events, four concerned environmental issues, with the now-suspended Kuokuang Petrochemical project at the nation’s second-largest wetland in Changhua County topping the list.
In second place was a land expropriation plan to make way for the expansion of a science park in the Dapu Borough (大埔) farming village. In this case, the Miaoli County Government used coercive measures to counter farmers who opposed the park, including dispatching excavators onto a tract of land and destroyed rice paddies.
A series of protests eventually forced the government to sit down with the farmers to discuss a possible compromise. However, not long after that, a 72-year-old female farmer, whose rice paddies had been fenced off for several months, killed herself by consuming pesticide.
The TDW said that the fourth-most important development was the government going against court orders to halt projects that would see farmland used for science park expansions in Houli (后里), Greater Taichung, and in Siangsihliao (相思寮), Changhua County.
This marked the first time in the nation’s history that a court cast doubt on the thoroughness of an environmental impact assessment.
Ranked in fifth place in the TDW’s assessment was the anti--nuclear issue. This included several issues, such as the government’s plan to turn a trail famous for its biological diversity into a road connecting Pingtung and Taitung counties, which activists believed was mainly designed to transport nuclear waste to Orchid Island (蘭嶼); a plan to relax rules on site selection for nuclear waste disposal; and the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City (新北市), which is currently under construction, following the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Japan.
“Underlying the environmental issues is a problem of social injustice” said Yen Chueh-an (顏厥安), a professor of law at National Taiwan University.
The phenomenon was a reflection of a society where social resources were not reasonably allocated and where advantaged people hold more sway in politics, which facilitates public policies that benefit only the advantaged and undermine the rights of the lower strata of society, Yen said.
Yen said social injustice could become the biggest crisis facing the nation’s democracy.
“It seems the democratic system operates in a way that doesn’t respond to problems of injustice and where there is no social awareness and mobilization to get the government’s attention,” Yen said.
The TDW’s selection process for the top 10 events included three stages.
A total of 170 academics, activists and attorneys, as well as long-time observers and participants in public policy, were invited to select the top 10 events from a pool of 60 that occurred between May 1 last year and April 31. This process was subject to a final review by the TDW selection panel.