President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said yesterday that tolerance of dissent is the most imperative and indispensable principle of democracy, one day after the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) former speaker of the now-defunct Taiwan Provincial Assembly, Kao Yu-jen (高育仁), accused his administration of being “plain incompetent.”
Accompanied by Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), Ma made the remarks at the opening ceremony for the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy’s new building in Taipei and the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the foundation’s establishment, which was also attended by Kao.
The event attracted media attention, because it was the first public occasion where Ma and Kao would meet since the latter lashed out at the government’s performance.
Kao, who is also the father-in-law of New Taipei City (新北市) Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫), said at a roundtable forum held by the foundation on Taiwan’s democratic development on Saturday that the Ma administration’s poor performance over the past five years had caused it to be labeled as an incompetent government.
“The KMT was thrown out of office in 2000 because of its dirty-money image, while the Democratic Progressive Party faced the same destiny in 2008 after former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) administration was branded as corrupt. Since the KMT has now been labeled as incompetent, it is again at risk of losing power in 2016,” Kao said.
In an apparent attempt to avoid direct contact with Kao, Ma left the ceremony on a tour of the building’s facilities shortly after his speech.
In his speech, Ma said democracy may come from the Western world, but the concept was not rejected by the soil of the East.
“As we gather here today to celebrate the foundation’s 10th birthday, I look forward to seeing the Republic of China’s [ROC] democracy continue to thrive and bear fruit,” Ma said.
Ma said the principles of democracy were majority rule, respect for minority opinions and tolerance of dissent. However, when his interpreter unwittingly omitted the last principle, Ma jokingly said in English: “You happened to leave out the most important part.”
Citing a famous quote by the 20th Century Chinese philosopher Hu Shih (胡適) that “tolerance is more important than freedom,” Ma said that while Hu’s remark was widely criticized at the time it was made, his view turned out to be of great value as the nation marched toward democracy.
Amid closer ties between Taiwan and China, Ma said the ROC’s democratic developments had begun to take on particular significance for Chinese, who were less familiar with the system of democracy.
“That is because it is the first time in ‘Zhonghua Culture’s’ [中華文化] 5,000-year history that the seed of democracy has taken root and is growing in Zhonghua soil,” Ma said.
“The seed has thrived in Taiwan and there is no reason it cannot be spread to other places,” he added.
Touting Taiwan’s democratic developments, Ma said that although the nation’s democratization process has been relatively long, it has not thwarted economic development nor destabilized society.
“Instead, it has created fair and transparent election systems and a rotation of ruling parties, and resulted in Taiwan being listed as a nation where human rights are adequately protected,” Ma said.