Feb 20, 2008

Talking Taiwan politics

Talking Taiwan Independence is a serious and important matter.

However, while most westerners and expatriats concerned with the island's future have a clear opinion on this issue, the majority of Taiwanese themselves have not, as "Black American Lawyer in China" M. Dujon Johnson notes.
It is my observation that Taiwan is both an sovereign nation AND it is not a sovereign nation. No I'm not hedging my bets and I'm not trying to have it both ways. A essential element in the conversation of independence is popular sovereignty, i.e., the people's will. On this it can be no doubt that the Taiwanese population is clearly divided among geographical lines in Taiwan. What is also important is that Taiwan, throughout its history from Chiang Kai-shek to Chen Shui-bien, has never declared independence (although the reasons why should be well-known to students of Asian history).[sic]

So what happens when a nation (?) says it wants to be part of the world community and treated as an equal...but it refuses to take the necessary steps to do so? And even if it did take political steps, would this be enough to acquire such a status internationally?

[emphasis by me]

He has a point there.
I have spoken with some young Taiwanese in and outside of Taiwan, and quite a number of them is not clear as to whether
  • what a possible Chinese occupation would mean to their rights and freedom as a vital democracy.
  • How immediate the possibility of a cross-Strait war really is. Again, Johnson argues convincingly that the Western Eye tends to overrate Chinese military potential:
    Don't believe the hype, Mainland China at this point in her history is not even close to having the fighting capability to take on the U.S. The question of Taiwan's defense is more a question of American political will.
    Due to its impressive economic development the country is already being viewed the factual world's next superpower - which is not yet is, and perhaps never will be as there will be no single superpower to arise, but a number of comparatively equally powerful regions on the planet. - Thus, many Taiwanese host an imminent fear of Beijing attacking Taiwan in the case of it declaring independence, although it is highly unlikely to happen.
  • Their identity as being Taiwanese or Chinese, or Taiwanese and Chinese (in the meaning of culturally being Chinese, not necessarily ethnically). Some of the possibility of forming a all-encompassing Taiwanese identity has been destroyed by the bad reputation of politicians abusing it for mere self-centered reasons and an unyielding thirst for power. The good in their messages gets completely contamined with their personal habits, corruption, and further short-comings. Sadly, this will keep a lot of disillusioned young voters from going with the referendum for application to the UN in March.
I have had discussions with some people about whether or not voting for the referendum in March. What I got from that is many of them hope for a much better and ideologically un-biased UN-application - a perfect situation, in other words.
However, that situation won't come so soon. Taiwanese democracy has some problems to face. Corruption of the elites and a depressing lack of choice (which really is a choice between two - in parts - almost equally despised political parties) only being two of those.

Reforms in the democratic processes?

David Reid (aka David on Formosa), writing about "Building a better democracy", suggested adjusting the threshold to 3% for parties to enter the Legislative Yuan, since The New Party and Taiwan SOlidarity Union had more than 3% each but failed to reach 5% and thus will not be represented in the new legislative.
I strongly agree with that.
He quoted an interesting article published in the Taipei Times about adopting the Dutch electoral system:

On voting day, the voters generally mark the box of the person who heads the list and the seats are allocated on the basis of the total percentage of the vote the party receives.

In that way, there is no discrepancy between the percentage of the vote and seats allocated to any particular party.

The "twist" is that voters have an alternative to giving what is essentially a "party vote" to the person who heads a particular party's list.

Voters may instead choose to make a "preference vote" by specifically naming a candidate lower on the party list, and if that candidate receives more preference votes than the total number of valid party votes divided by the total number of seats for that party, he or she is elected.

To me, this sounds like a good alternative.

In Germany, legislative elections are held in a different manner. Every person are granted two votes, one for the local candidate of their preference, and the other one for the party they wish to elect on a nation-wide basis. In that way, it is possible to support a local candidate while given the second vote to a party that perhaps has a greater chance of entering parliament.

However, personage on each of the parties list are not listed according to popular vote but by party decision, unlike than the processions in the Netherlands. There is a 5%-threshold to parties entering parliament, but Germany has a developed 5-party-system (in which in the most recent elections in 2005, all of these five parties had at least 8% of the popular vote). Minor parties are seldom reaching as much as 1 or 2% each at the nation level.

Taiwan, however, is dominated by two great parties (one of whom has a threatening two thirds majority since January), and in my eyes there is the need for a greater variety in the party system. One way would be lowering the threshold to 3%, another would be strengthening the power and opportunities of the smaller parties. This, however, is a question of attitude (in Germany, even the two great parties acknowledge the importance of smaller parties for a vital, prospering, and balanced democracy) and would require support by the Guomindang, making it a goal hard to reach, I fear.

Back to Independence

Many have stated it and I cannot stress enough how important the Taiwanese democracy is in the modern world. Not only does it offer an alternative to one-party rule on the mainland (while also posting an equally formidable economic development, taking some of the prospering economy's legitimizing potential from the People's Republic's system).

Moreover, does it offer a pattern to self-attained democratisation for the Confucian world and beyond. Taiwan is already a global player with official political ties especially to Africa and South America, where it can serve as a good example and motivator for democratic development, setting it apart from the morally questionable, proft-oriented methods of the People's Republic there.

Again, a lot being termed "potentially", I am aware that Taiwan is far from being a perfect democracy, on the other hand this potential offers great opportunities for making Taiwan an internationally distinguished political actor, thus really exercising great pressure on China for democratic reforms and making ever-lasting ignorance of Taiwan's democracy on the international level by the democratic West (especially the European Union) harder to uphold.

I can only urge Taiwanese not to give in, nor to succumb to China's military threat, but to make some noise standing up for their UN-insured-to-be rights to freedom and political self-responsibility!

As Johnson puts it,

So in the absence of U.S. and Mainland Chinese external pressures, does the question of Taiwanese sovereignty rest upon the Taiwanese people themselves? Maybe before China scholars like myself ask the question if Taiwan is an independent country the Taiwanese people and government should ask themselves the question first.

Honestly, I am very optimistic about the future and the chances it holds. I am very much looking forward to coming back to Taiwan again, and this time with the background of deeper knowledge, being able to make a difference and assist the great Taiwanese people with what I am able to do. Formosa is a beautiful place, and we should preserve it like this.

Good night, and good luck.

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