Thursday, April 03, 2014

On Democracy and the Occupation of the Taiwan Legislature




With regard to the occupation of the Taiwan legislature and, in particular, the DPP’s determination to sidetrack the democratic process when the numbers were not in its favor on its pet issues, I was the recipient of some indignant feedback along the lines of Gandhi, MLK, etc. i.e. on issues of moral imperatives you gotta do what’s right, not just count the votes.

Color me unconvinced. The big existential issue is reunification with the mainland.  That ship has sailed.  96% of the population regards itself as Taiwanese.  60% oppose reunification, outnumbering proponents of reunification 3:1.  The ROC is de facto independent.  After 30+ years of elected governments, no political party is going to be able to impose reunification on Taiwan.  If the KMT tries, the entire population of Taiwan is welcome to hit the bricks, with my blessing.

With reunification off the table, the key issue is whether Taiwan should tilt toward or away from the mainland economically.  That’s a question for the voters to decide, not the DPP caucus strategists and the indignant multitudes.  The presidential election in January 2016 beckons to voters who believe that the KMT's outreach to the mainland on cross-strait service trade should be reversed.

But if the KMT is screwed up six ways from sideways and feels obliged to cave to the demonstrators, be my guest.  This will simply confirm the dysfunctional character of Taiwan politics (remember the fits the pan-Blues gave Chen Shuibian?) and incentivize the KMT to play similar tricks if Su Tseng-chang becomes president. 

The DPP leadership probably feels that partisan rancor enhances polarization, will condition the people to give up on any consensus-based, KMT-mediated accommodation with the mainland, and further reconcile Taiwanese to the risky alternative of de jure independence.  Time and demographics, together with DPP militancy, are whittling away at Taiwan’s emotional links to the mainland.  Polarization is ugly, but it’s good politics for the DPP and its independence agenda, so I don’t expect it’s going to disappear.

The one remaining existential issue that remains in Taiwanese politics is strictly in the hands of the DPP and the Green coalition: de jure independence.  If properly done, this would involve a constitutional convention to define and reaffirm the basis of Taiwanese sovereignty, with lots of democratic voting for delegates to the convention and votes on the new constitution itself, and I find it interesting that the new student demand is, indeed, for a constitutional convention.  Of course, that’s not to say Taiwanese independence won’t turn out to be a quick and dirty legalistic train wreck shoved through by the DPP along the lines of Kosovo or Crimea, but I hope it isn’t.

Taiwanese democracy is good but (to further editorialize here) the practice of Taiwanese democracy looks pretty craptacular.  It’s probably better to recognize and encourage the good thing—lots of people voting—and less of the bad thing—people using the justification of moral imperative to block democratic processes in order to advance narrow political and tactical agendas.



9 comments:

De-li Wei said...

Peter,
Your understanding of what is the "democratic process" is deeply flawed not on any moralistic basis but simply you seem to be unaware of the historical development of its idea and practice. Democracy as it is practiced in Switzerland still is the closest thing to the original article. It is not a zero sum gain with winners and losers. Functionally the only way for democracy to work is to leave no one behind, no segment of the body politic. To do so, even on one issue can polarise a nation to such an extent that civil war becomes inevitable as in the US in 1861. Your spin on "democracy and democratic process" not withstanding although current is not the original. As a language consultant I'd advise you to concern yourself with other definitions of the terms you use to make your already considerably accurate analysis much more well-rounded and convincing.

Regarding Taiwan, a place I lived and worked for more than ten years, (even running my own business there for more than a year until I realise it was a money pit investing there), it bears no resemblance to a functioning democracy except in rhetoric. Your previous observation about the RoC constitution is still valid. In addition, there is not a culture there yet which truly supports a properly functioning democracy and the next generation's potentially disenfranchised elite is starting to realise that and call the gov's rhetorical bluff. DPP or KMT is like the dumb or dumber version of that rhetorical democracy. My clients there are all deeply tired of blue-green politics. Taiwan is still a place where I can pay hong-bao to a tax official or wine and dine him to get around my civic duty of paying taxes. You are correct that it is deeply dysfunctional but though you have already identified a part of the reason (structural/constitutional) you are laying that dysfunction squarely on some political actors. Those actors are only symptomatic of the problem. This Sunflower Movement may yet be subsumed in that but as yet it is asymptomatic.

Citizens occupying a legislature (and filibustering)is back to the original version of democracy and should be applauded even if you disagree with their views if you at all respect democratic principles and are in the least bit invested in maintaining civic society and the cohesion of one's own nation. That is simply pragmatic and in everyone's best interests. For you to make pronouncements to the contrary is rather ill-informed, iconoclastic maybe it seems even "uncivilised" to some.

Had the KMT not clung to their autocratic airs there was a juncture a few years ago by which they could have engineered eventual reunification with China through delivery of good governance and economic benefits. They bumbled that opportunity entirely.

I want to thank you for your fine articles. They are always interesting regardless of subject matter and I look forward to more such articles as you hone your analytical skills still further through experience.
best regard,
Wei De-li

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Xinxi said...

"The big existential issue is reunification with the mainland. That ship has sailed."
This is a really interesting question. After both "Sister Peach" (Momo Jiejie) and my Taiwanese brother-in-law have found themselves Mainland partners, I wouldn't be so sure. Chinese successes and the failure by the DPP to dispel fears about Hoklo chauvinism among Hakkas and Mainlander families seem to tilt emotions again in favor of some kind of association. Taiwanese seem to love getting preferential treatment due to being "Chinese", but don't want Chinese Chinese to come to Taiwan in any substantial numbers. My rather shallow take is: If the Chinese could make Chinese popular culture "sexy" in a way Koreans did with their traditions, nominal unification of some sort might be within reach.

Yu-Hsing Chen said...

Student Filibuster in itself is fine, but when they also demand the government to do things their way, it is neither a swiss democracy nor even really a filibuster, but an outright hijack.

Mr. Lee is correct that there are flaws in the ROC democracy, though most of which lies in an inability to resolve stalemates between different branches, which the current situation is obviously not. And one should point out the the relevant amendments that dictates how the current ROC government functions (which is nothing like it's original form in China.) was mostly passed in 2005 by a DPP majority Congress.

So yeah, the DPP is essentially saying the the game rules they wrote down themselves, should not apply to them. Oooook.

Since we all agree that Taiwan is not a real democracy, forgive me for rather having a stable autocracy than some half way between anarchy and facism that the anti KMT forces often exhibit.

Wet said...

reunification is inevitable. democracy has became a religion. Just wait until chinese culture makes a come back and this democracy problem will go away. Democracy is not freedom. The break away between democracy and free markets is already starting. Its free markets that works not democracy.

kl wies said...

wei- Its free markets that works not democracy.

Look what free market did with melamine in milk powder and that is just the appetizer the Main course? 2009 financial crisis even GE almost went into bankruptcy.

There is no free market now that is a religion created to give the imppression of freedom but really free market?? willing buyer willing seller so why heroin is illegal? Why melamine is mix with baby powder illegal? And big corporations NEVER like the so called Free Market. All the tax breaks for them is free market? Sounds like NANNY state and every single country has it and doing it in various intensity.

De li Wei - Your understanding of what is the "democratic process" is deeply flawed not on any moralistic basis but simply you seem to be unaware of the historical development of its idea and practice. - You mean like when Colin Powell told Chavez he is deluded into thinking that holding a referendum is getting the understanding wrong idea about democracy?? A referendum is getting back to ask the people for legitimacy and support with freedom to choose. Is that deeply flawed understanding of Democracy?

What is the justification of rejecting Referendum of asking the People and take matters into own hand to decide for others?

kl wies said...

wei- Its free markets that works not democracy.

Look what free market did with melamine in milk powder and that is just the appetizer the Main course? 2009 financial crisis even GE almost went into bankruptcy.

There is no free market now that is a religion created to give the imppression of freedom but really free market?? willing buyer willing seller so why heroin is illegal? Why melamine is mix with baby powder illegal? And big corporations NEVER like the so called Free Market. All the tax breaks for them is free market? Sounds like NANNY state and every single country has it and doing it in various intensity.

De li Wei - Your understanding of what is the "democratic process" is deeply flawed not on any moralistic basis but simply you seem to be unaware of the historical development of its idea and practice. - You mean like when Colin Powell told Chavez he is deluded into thinking that holding a referendum is getting the understanding wrong idea about democracy?? A referendum is getting back to ask the people for legitimacy and support with freedom to choose. Is that deeply flawed understanding of Democracy?

What is the justification of rejecting Referendum of asking the People and take matters into own hand to decide for others?

De-li Wei said...

kl wies -- I totally concur with you in so far as I understand your argument, and believe in an actual free market -- not the rigged markets that exist in so-called democracies today. And I fully support any and all referendum. In a proper democracy markets would be free -- Switzerland I feel is a good example of both as close a structure that can be had to direct democracy at a national level and I think -- you may know better -- that it is as free a market that is allowed to exist in Europe.
I don't understand the need to differentiate the two concepts.

To clarify, I am taking Peter to task because he is using the term "democracy" herein in a real politik sense -- and per other comments yes, there is much idol-worship of "democracy" -- and these are both false gods. The origin of democracy was something else entirely and that is what I would ideally chose to strive for even as I as a small business owner hope to operate my business in a truly free market where my efforts and skills give me a competitive advantage over bloated greedy competitors utilising their government connections -- as they did in Taiwan -- to block or gain advantage while offer shite, inferior service and quality.

Preaching to the choir my friend.

De-li Wei said...

Ah! kl wies -- you were not replying to me but rather to "Wet" wasn't it? That is not your opinion. Free markets only remain free when those operating within the market do so with morality/ethics. The rigged markets we have today have only become so due to a failure of ethics and proper, original democracy.

And regarding my own comments you obvious did not read them fully or on the contrary you are asking me to clarify. Colin Powell is/was nothing but a soldier of Empire. And if it is examples of so-called democracies proving that they do not in the slightest value democratic principles then look no further than Donetsk, or Crimea or Catalonia or Veneto.

Xinxi -- You make good points, and I agree that at some point that could be true -- I alluded to that in my comments as well. I will say that it cannot happen smoothly in this generation now and I believe that is what Peter was referring to when he said "That ship has sailed."

Garima -- Thank you for sharing!

Chen Yu-hsing -- I appreciate your position. I feel that the majority of the students actually are clueless about democracy, as are the DPP -- the shadow KMT -- and that is a result of hearing for years from the KMT that "this is democracy" when it is Confucianist neo-feudalism, using a fascade of "democracy." Thank you for admitting that Taiwan is not a real democracy. And if you prefer autocracy that is your prerogative need not ask my forgiveness. Your honesty is admirable. I recommend an absolute monarchy in that case. "Anarchy and fascism" is really illogical though and ruins an otherwise strong argument. Han culture is fascist in and of its self, and the DPP drink of that only a little less than the KMT. Real democracy needs a radical revolution not only in structure but culture to be obtainable in Taiwan.

Wet - Nothing is inevitable ever. A superpower may collapse tomorrow or its citizens may miraculously come to their senses and seize the reins again. Democracy even as it is practiced in the US is not the genuine article. So yes that is correct "Democracy is not freedom." In fact it is this fake democracy that is the most effective of all prisons. In my opinion Americans believe so certainly that they are free that they've become slaves. Yet the ideal of democracy is a cultural ideal that infects every nation now whether you approve or not.
Truly free markets cannot exist without ethics and real democratic values.

Ps.: In my original comment there is a serious typo --> "zero sum game."