Ten Thousand Forums Is A Joke

This is a translation of an article in The Journalist.

The Democratic Progressive Party believes religiously that "a big number is a good number."  No matter what they do, they always talk big: 50 billion in five years, 800 billion in eight years, one million demonstrators in the street ... all their numbers are stunningly impressive to people, as if lower numbers would not be political accomplishments.  For the constitutional reform that may or may not happen in a few years, the Democratic Progressive Party is boasting that they will hold 10,000 discussion forums in the 7,800 plus villages of Taiwan!

They are going to hold 10,000 discussion forums!  This figure is unprecedented in the history of mankind, above and beyond the fact that these forums will be on one and only one single topic.  In the next 10,000 years, nobody else would have the vision and ambition to come up with such a grand idea for such a grand project.

What do I say that this is a grand project?  All you have to do is some simple arithmetic to know the answer:

Starting this very moment until the day when Chen Shui-bian's term ends in May, 2008, this government has 33 months left.  If they intend to hold 10,000 discussion forums starting this very day, they will have to hold an average of 303 discussion forums every month, or about 10 discussion forums per day.  Isn't that a grand project?

Looking at it from another perspective, a discussion forum must surely cost some money to run.  Even if a single discussion forum costs only NT$40,000 or NT$50,000, then the 10,000 forums will lead to an expenditure of NT$400 million or NT$500 million.  Besides, does the President's Office want not only to "hold discussion forums at the village level", but they also want the "propaganda to reach the household level"?  According to the Ministry of the Interior, there are 7.26 million households in Taiwan.  If we add the costs of printing and delivering promotional material to those households, these 10,000 forums will probably run up to more than NT$1 billion plus!

Does Taiwan have that much money to squander away?  Is there something more important than spending it on 10,000 discussion forums?  Maybe the President's Office will say that the various levels of the government can budget for these expenditures gradually over the years, but why would the various levels of legislatures provide for a Democratic Progressive Party project?  Backing up one step, even if the President's Office wants to raise those funds on its own, where are the sources of funding?  Chen Shui-bian is already a lame-duck.  On top of this, the constitutional reform is an uninteresting and unrewarding proposal.  So which big-shot corporate boss is going to be interested in donating big money?

Let us not even talk about the money figures.  If the President's Offices wants to hold 10,000 discussion forums in order to formulate the policy philosophy, then this is absurd and in fact quite anti-democratic.

The Democratic Progressive Party has been in power for several years.  In the representative style of indirect democracy, it has opened the door to direct democracy.  However, the referendum that they proposed was a laughing stock.  The consultative style of democracy is still in the experimental stage, but the Democratic Progressive Party may be considered to be successful in taking the first step towards direct democracy.

Yet, a policy such as "ten thousand discussion forums", "forums at the village level" and "propaganda to the household level"  (or such slogans) is completely antithetical to consultative democracy and totally unconnected to participatory democracy.  Rather, it resembles the top-down political education campaigns in totalitarian governments: each person in each neighborhood in each district in each village shall be mobilized to study the documents delivered by the central government under the supervision of the local officials with the approval of the intellectuals and the applause of the friendly political parties.  These circumstances are no longer even seen on mainland China anymore, so why would Taiwan want to go through these power-grabbing and false democratic (and even anti-democratic) steps now.

Let us retreat another ten thousand steps just for argument's sake.  Let us suppose that this project somehow has to be done.  But there is not even a hint about what the constitutional reforms might be at this time.  Where are the "educational texts" to be used for those ten thousand discussion forums?  Will this be the version of the Democratic Progressive Party?  Or the versions of the various other parties?  Who is going to interpret and communicate the specialized constitutional knowledge to the masses?  Are there that many constitutional scholars in Taiwan?  Or maybe should we ask whether the Democratic Progressive Party has that many of its own partisan 'constitutional scholars'?  If they don't have enough numbers, then the ten thousand discussion forums may overwork them to death!

It has taken a few years for Taiwan to achieve an embryonic form of civil society.  But these ten thousand discussion forums are used in the name of civil society in order to seize power.  Those people in the President's Office had better put a stop to this, or else they will create a huge joke in the history of constitutions around the world.  Besides, aren't there more important things for you people to do in Taiwan?