Taiwan - The Road To Democracy
The following is a translation of a China Times article covering a forum in Taipei.
This afternoon, at the international forum titled "The Road To Democracy: Global Perspectives on Democratic Experiments" sponsored by the Lung Ying-tai Cultural Foundation and held at the Zhongshan Hall, the invited guest Shi Ming-teh (施明德) said in his speech that many people have told him that the past several decades of work done by the Democratic Progressive Party while they were in the opposition has been totally erased in a brief six years. Although Shi Ming-teh was not happy with the current situation, he pointed out that looking beyond even the present, the road to democracy should not have been smooth anyway. Furthermore, the discontent of the people represents hope and it is a social force.
Lung Ying-tai said that Taiwan was the first country in the Chinese-speaking world to attempt to implement democracy. But society here is now filled with mistrust, disappointment and helplessness. She said: The original opposition became the rulers, but their impotence and corruption far exceeded our imagination; the original rulers became the opposition, but their impotence and lack of self-awareness are unbearable.
Lung Ying-tai said that we cannot point our fingers at anyone, because we elected all that filth and ugliness. The quality of the citizens is the quality of the politicians. The responsibility should go back to the citizens. Lung Ying-tai said that only when we look at our experience in the global spectrum will we know which future road we will follow.
In his speech, Shi Ming-teh also pointed out that the current central government system of Taiwan contains a lot of problems, which can be said to be one of the causes of social chaos and decay. He hopes that the political parties can put aside blue-green and persons interests to seriously think about the current central government system. Apart from this, he also thinks that the quality of the people is the other big area in democracy other than the system. He called for the current rulers and those who want to become rulers to have ideals, a sense of mission and the ability to reflect. He especially pointed out that people, political parties and even national apparatus can make mistakes, but those who are incapable of reflection will make mistakes again and again and become the object of criticisms for generations to come afterwards.
Shi Ming-teh said that the rulers need to understand the nature of power. It is necessary to act properly to gain power as opposed to by sheer ruthlessness. Once power is gained, one must understand the humility of power and one cannot become arrogant as a result of the power. He used the examples of the governments in South America and Korea that fell as a result of abuse while in power. "Yesterday's president is today's prisoner" because they were unable to resist temptation. He pointed out that the power of the rulers was given through the votes of the people, and so the exercise of power must meet the public interest. He also pointed out that the rulers must resist temptation, or else their reputation will be ruined forever.
Finally, Shi Ming-teh said that on the road to democracy, it is easier to endure hardship than to resist temptation. On the road to democracy while opposing the existing powers, it is not enough to have tolerance. We must learn to forgive, because only forgiveness is the most beautiful exclamation point in the face of hardships.
At the forum, the speaker from the Philippines (耶加多‧安格拉) said that the difficulty faced by democracy in the nation was that the presidential system allowed the president to control the entire national apparatus. Only very wealthy people can afford to participate in elections and the ruling party has an overwhelming advantage in soliciting funds. Thus, the distribution of power is unfair and this is the cause of the difficulties in the Philippines at the moment. Apart from that, the media are unfair and biased, and there is a huge wealth disparity that forced nine million Filipinos to work abroad as laborers. In the 1950's, the Philippines led Asia in terms of democratic development, but they are now far behind other Asian countries. The speaker said that the Philippines must put in a lot more effort in order to attain true democracy.
The speaker from Malaysia (澤依納‧安華) analyzed the difficult path by which the Islamic world fought for democracy. She pointed out that the gender inequality in the Islamic world violates basic worldwide human rights as well as the original intent of the Koran. The Islamic Sisters organization that she leads is trying to reform Islam from the inside to fight for women's rights and democracy. Within many Islamic countries, women's rights and democratic organizations are the vanguard to promote equality and just principles in Islamic law.
So what is happening in the big brother of democracy, the United States of America? In the speech of David Lindorff (大衛‧林道夫), he pointed out that democracy is endangered in the United States today. In national election contests, only a small number of positions are truly competitive. The other positions are held by powerful people whom no one from another party can possibly defeat. Therefore David Lindorff believes that the American democracy is being controlled by a self-appointed "elite" who thinks that it knows what the United States and the rest of the world want.
The most worrying part is that the campaign funds are the key to winning or losing elections. American party election is not based upon ideas or ideology, but the emphasis is on personal charisma and the media form the principal axis for elections. In the last presidential election, the two sides put down more than USD 1 billion in campaign money. David Lindorff pointed out that this is the greatest crisis for the United States.
Apart from that, the American masses are interested in consumption and indifferent to politics. Fewer than half the people vote in presidential elections; local elections attract fewer than 20% of the voters. The people have no sense of responsibility for social concerns. David Lindorff pointed out that democracy in the United States is sliding downwards. The people feel powerless about their government and therefore they don't care about politics.
Finally, Lindorff made the surprising statement that China is hard to rule for one government because it is so broad and populous. He felt that the modernization of the coastal regions will make the local people want to demand democracy. With the increasing corruption of the Communist Party, Taiwan democracy will become a model for the other side of the strait. Therefore, he emphasized that the democratic experience of Taiwan will be very important to China.
In the international forum on "The Road to Democracy" organized by the Lung Ying-tai Cultural Foundation, the audience cared most about the highly topical subject in recent Taiwan politics: how to prevent the rulers from becoming corrupt on the road to democracy. An audience member asked, "The Philippines used People Power to overthrow their government once upon a time. The current Taiwan rulers are corrupt and rotten, so how can Chen Shui-bian be forced to quit if impeachment is not feasible?"
The Filipino speaker said that he did not intend to interfere with internal Taiwan politics, but he can talk about People Power. He said that People Power was started in the Philippines in the 1980's, and led Czechoslovak, Georgia, Ukraine and other countries to imitate the same. But he emphasized that even though People Power pushed democracy along, the Philippines paid a tremendous price during the process. They found out twenty years after the People's Revolution that People Power caused certain organizations to lose their neutrality. For example, the military should be neutral in order to protect national security, but the Filipino military entered into politics instead. Also, most judicial personnel are appointed by the government, and this weakened judicial powers.
The Filipino speaker believed that unless the situation in a country is in an absolute mess, that the suffering of the people is unbearable and that there is no other proper process to change things, he would not recommend a popular revolution. He emphasized that to change the situation or force the rulers to quit, it is best to use constitutional means instead of using People Power like a habit.
Another audience member questioned how the independent judicial system in the United States can counteract presidential corruption. David Lindorff said that he wanted first to respond to the preceding question. He did not agree with using People Power to overthrow the government unless it is an extremely serious situation. Otherwise, the vote should be used to express discontent with the rulers.
David Lindorff said that in the independent American judicial system, the prosecutor is not a political appointee and can therefore conduct an investigation in an independent fashion. He pointed out that certain prosecutors are investigating the abuse of power by the White House right now. Even though the Attorney General is the boss of these prosecutors, he cannot dictate the investigations by these prosecutors. He said that the prosecutors in the United States are independent and can definitely investigate corruption within the government. He said proudly that as an American reporter, he is quite impressed with the integrity of the American federal judges.
(China Times) May 1, 2006.
The Lung Ying-tai Cultural Foundation held the second day of the international forum on "The Road To Democracy: Global Perspectives on Democratic Experiments" yesterday. Many scholars thought that democratic politics have been dwarfed by the giant shadows cast by the politicians and capitalists. In order to remedy the mistakes of democratic politics, "one needs to rely on the people waking up instead of the politicians repenting!"
Eight expert scholars from the United States, Japan, Philippines, Malaysia, mainland China and Taiwan discussed the problems with democracy that have emerged recently in various countries around the world. The cultural observer Lung Ying-tai said, "The quality of the citizens is the quality of the politicians!" Full political responsiblity cannot be laid down on the political figures, because each political figure was elected by the people themselves. Hopefully, in looking at the blue-green problem, one does not focus on this narrow area and one should look at the total global perspective.
Lung Ying-tai emphasized that democracy is actually a process. It is not a state of being in which society reaches a certain stage after which our work is finished. It is a process that has to be continuously practiced in practical life and it has to continuously revised.
The mainland China scholar 朱學勤 from Shanghai once worked in a factory during the Cultural Revolution and was named by Southern News Weekly two years ago among the "fifty public intellectuals who influence China." In his analysis of the cultural revolution and the reforms of the Communist Party, he said that the achievements of the Chinese reforms are undeniable, but those reforms brought social crises: the division of rich and poor, environmental stress, overspending of resources and son. These problems have brought up reflections about the reforms in China today.
Taiwai University Political Science Department professor 朱雲漢 thought that the shooting incident in the 2004 election caused social opinion in Taiwan to split. The people of Taiwan are enthusiastic about politics and the various election activities are as professional as music concerts. But very few people ever asked just how these election shows were being financed? Taiwan is also seeing the problem of "presidential powers are too big, to the point of having questions of exceeding the powers illegally." There is a big discrepancy between democracy and political practice.
朱雲漢 said that "democracy" and "market" are the two pillars that hold up human social life in the 21st century. But in the practical operation of democracy, there have been serious discrepancies. Under the leadership of the so-called "neo-conservative" ideology, the ability of the national government departments to protect social welfare has receded. Under the control of global capitalism, democratic systems became empty shells. Since there is no substitute for democratic politics, the people can only the loathsome politics that come in a democratic politics.
Professor 藤原 from Tokyo University in Japan said that the problems India, Thailand, Philippines and Korea encountered when they implemented democracy pointed out the three flaws of democracy in Asian countries. Democracy brought out totalitarian dictatorship, corruption and abuse of power and the inability to implement public opinion. For the Asian countries, democracy is still "an unfinished project."
Professor 白永瑞 from the History Department of 延世 University in Korea used his country as the example. He pointed out that there is a trend for the people to seriously question how democratization has improved the quality of life in Korea. He emphased that democracy should be practiced in Korea on the basis of the interests of the people of South and North Koreas. Many scholars believe that the biggest problem about global democratization comes from the United States, where American style demcoracy is a political game in which looting for personal interests is conducted in the name of democracy. In the giant shadows of the politicians and capitalists, democracy is only a dwarf in politics. To remedy the many flaws of democratic politics, "we must depend on the people waking up and not on the politicians repenting."
For those in China unable to read the Chinese, here are the simplified character versions: