Amid a growing sense of disenfranchisement, young people in Taiwan and Hong Kong are increasingly angry and want their governments to pay more attention to them, two panelists told a conference on democracy building in Taipei yesterday.
Speaking during a panel on majority and minority rights in government at the “Democracy Building in Interesting Times” conference organized by the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, the Heritage Foundation and Institute for National Policy Research, Alan Leong (梁家傑), a pro--democracy activist and one-time contender for the post of Hong Kong chief executive, said that while about 60 percent of people in Hong Kong support full democracy, its advocates remain the minority in the Legislative Council.
“Functional constituencies” representing the interests of conglomerates, big business and other small groups, as well as interference by Beijing, ensure that these legislators are forever in the opposition, said Leong, leader of the Civic Party.
That system, he said, gives those “vested powers” de facto veto powers and ensures that the “fruits of economic success” are not shared evenly and remain in the hands of the few.
Leong also said that in light of the proposed electoral models for the elections of chief executive and the Legislative Council in 2017 and 2020 respectively, “there is practically no way that Hong Kong can see universal and equal suffrage” applied during the vote.
Speaking of the deficiencies in the system, Leong said: “It is indeed a coincidence that the Hong Kong people comes to expect so much from the opposition parties in a system where the opposition is supposed to be irrelevant and ineffective.”
“This is not what the designer of our political system had in mind,” he said.
Speaking along the same lines, Parris Chang (張旭成), professor emeritus of political science at Pennsylvania State University and president of the Taiwan Institute for Political Economic and Strategic Studies, said that although in his opening remarks Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) highlighted the need for legislative oversight of the executive, the rules of the game continued to be made by the governing party.
“Wang, for example, fought really hard for a review of the -Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement [ECFA],” Chang said, “but the Executive Yuan did not allow the legislature to fully review it.”
“Wang said the ruling party should respect the minority, but the government wants the minority to obey the majority,” Chang said.
“I know Wang is a democrat, but his powers are limited,” Chang said, adding that he “worried very much about his [Wang’s] future.”
This imbalance in power, he said, stemmed from the remnants of a Leninist system from which the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) emerged.
By breaking his vow not to become party chairman, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) accrued tremendous power, which now allows him to appoint KMT legislators who will toe the party line and ensure his policies are implemented, Chang said.
Both Leong and Chang agreed that the younger generations were frustrated and wanted the government to pay more attention to them.
In Taiwan’s case, Chang said, the benefits of economic -recovery and the ECFA have not trickled down to ordinary Taiwanese, while entry-level salaries for university graduates are far too low for them to afford buying a house.
As a result, he said, the KMT has become worried because young people are deserting the party and voting for the Democratic Progressive Party.
In Hong Kong, Leong pointed to the emergence of the “post-80s” generation, people in their 20s and early 30s who are calling for more political engagement and don’t want power to be limited to a few conglomerates.
Asked whether the “post-80s” generation identified more as Chinese or Hong Kongese, Leong said there was “no question” that they viewed themselves as Chinese, adding that the majority cherished the “one country, two systems” model as a means to secure Hong Kong’s special identity.
On Taiwan’s role as a model of democratization for China, Leong said Taiwan was in an ideal position to help, as it “is part of the country [China].”
“Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) cannot say that Ma is a busybody trying to interfere with the People’s Republic of China’s domestic politics,” Leong said, adding that similar calls by US President Barack Obama, for example, would have far less traction as they came from an external element.