Sun, Oct 05, 2014 - Page 3 News List

Academics discuss gap between democratic anticipation and legislative failure

FRESH OUTLOOK:The nation should adopt civic constitutionalism, as overdependence on courts stifles people’s democratic engagement in public affairs, a forum was told

By Alison Hsiao  /  Staff reporter

The establishment of the Sunflower movement earlier this year signified not only the public’s dissatisfaction with how the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) handled a controverial cross-strait agreement; it also revealed the currently unbridgeable gap between the nation’s anticipation of what a democratically elected legislature should do and its failure to meet the expectation, academics said in Taipei yesterday.

As Hong Kong is facing off against Chinese authorities in demonstrations for full suffrage and real democracy, the Youth Synergy Taiwan Foundation has organized a series of forums spanning the month of October to discuss the predicament of Taiwan’s representational democracy and the role referendums could play to either supplement or, on certain issues, replace representational politics.

Broadening civic participation, in the form of public deliberation and referendums, is the aim of much-called-for constitutional reforms, which are expected to alleviate the dissonance in the interactions between, and the respective expectations of, the government, the representational system and the public, according to the academics whose backgrounds are in law, sociology and public administration.

National Taiwan University law professor Yeh Jiunn-rong (葉俊榮) trumpeted civic constitutionalism as the approach the nation should adopt, referring to the book New Democracies in Crisis, which says that overdependence on courts and rigid constitutions creates estranged democratic engagement of citizens in public affairs.

“A constitution is sure to have content, spirit, values and culture; it has to engage in conversation with people democratically. It could lead or sometimes restrain democracy. In a transitional democracy, it could draw up a schedule for democratic reforms,” Yeh said. “This is what [Jurgen] Habermas underlines in his Between Facts and Norms, which acknowledges the conflicts, but strives to find harmony between the two.”

National Taiwan University associate professor of sociology Lin Kuo-min (林國民) said the predicament of representational democracy is made possible by two political phenomena: the lure of modern authoritarianism and the lure of majoritarianism.

“We can call the first one the ‘China factor,’ which has affected the world, not in the direct way it has influenced Taiwan, but with a mode of development the Chinese government has been touting that is authoritarian and removes transparency and democracy from the decisionmaking process,” he said. “The other is believing that a majority in congress could trump the minority’s opinions.”

“The Sunflower movement embodied this crisis of democracy: The cross-strait service trade agreement was negotiated clandestinely, and the majority party tried to ram it through in the legislature,” Lin said.

People need to have access to political participation other than elections, and referendums might be a way to complement representational democracy, but the nation’s rights to referendum have been restricted by the president-nominated “referendum review committee,” he said.

“And even if we have referendums, a more progressive institution cannot be created if people fail to have sufficient knowledge in and debate over the public issues,” he added. “This is where civic deliberation comes in.”

National Taipei University professor Chen Yao-hsiang (陳耀祥) said that what the nation needs now is the construction of substantive democracy — as opposed to having only a form of it — that is predicated on the deconstruction of the party-state residues not only in political structure, but also in social, economic and cultural realms.

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