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Home Editorials of Interest Taipei Times Democracy’s Achilles’ heel

Democracy’s Achilles’ heel

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There should be little discussion that Taiwan’s hard-won democracy is vibrant. However, people interested in politics and current affairs often overlook the fact that the preoccupations of many may lie elsewhere, and for legitimate reasons.

That this is problematic is doubly true in Taiwan, as there is a real argument that the country’s sovereignty is in jeopardy. This is not simply because this perceived apathy by swathes of the public allows the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to manipulate the debate in the interests of its “united front” efforts, but also because the defense of Taiwan’s sovereignty may well depend on US military intervention or support. This intervention might not be forthcoming if Taiwanese are not perceived to be helping themselves.

The danger is that many people perceive that, far from having their will carried out through the democratic process, the opposite is true. Taiwanese politics is extremely polarized. Unless one party wins an absolute majority, the majority of the electorate would feel that the policies they voted for are not being represented. They might be asking where these politicians, who seek to represent them, come from.

In a country where the wealth disparity continues to grow and the poor hear of economic growth, but fail to see real improvements in their daily lives, can anyone blame them for feeling disengaged from the political process? Or, if they are engaged, in wanting a change from “business as usual”?

The nation’s sovereignty is of paramount importance. However, many people — rich and poor alike — look more to the effect of politics on their individual circumstances and those of their immediate group. Annexation by a CCP-controlled China will lead to the death of democratic freedoms in Taiwan, but what does that mean to those who feel that democracy does not serve them well?

Some are more interested in how political change would affect their material lives. With Taiwan’s economy in relative decline, especially compared with the heyday of the 1980s and 1990s, they might well see unification as a way to ride China’s rise.

Others might be asking how long the CCP would be able to cling to power, given suggestions of internal tensions within China that might precipitate its downfall. With no CCP, where is the problem with unification?

What of the people who value peace more than what democracy brings? Not just peace, but the avoidance of the horrors of war? You might disagree with them, but can you deny their logic or the balance of their preferences?

This is the Achilles’ heel of democracy in these troubled times. For those who value Taiwan’s continued democracy, sovereignty and de facto independence, such opinions present a formidable challenge. It is absolutely incumbent upon politicians to make their arguments more persuasive.

The backlash against “business as usual” in politics is a global trend. In the US, people disappointed with the political class voted in a businessman with no political experience. Ukrainians chose a comedian with neither political experience nor a network to support him.

In Taiwan, there is a real possibility that voters might turn their backs on the political establishment and look to Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) and Hon Hai Precision Industry Co chairman Terry Gou (郭台銘). Both men are charismatic individuals with the advantage of distance from the political elite to recommend them to disillusioned voters. Either could be nominated as the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) presidential candidate.

Taiwanese politicians need to find a way to give voters not just the perception, but the reality of the value of participation in the democratic process. They need to more effectively communicate the implications of their stances for people’s daily lives. They need to earn back the trust of the electorate.

Source: Taipei Times - Editorials 2019/05/11

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American Institute in Taiwan Director Brent Christensen yesterday speaks at the opening of a two-day US-Taiwan Global Cooperation and Training Framework conference at the Grand Hyatt Taipei.
Photo: Liao Chen-huei, Taipei Times

The new director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) yesterday lauded Taiwan’s democratic development and its contribution to the world, which he said are deserving of the international community’s dignity and respect.