Beyond Election Politics
ˇ@ˇ@In order to learn from Taiwan's democratisation process and the role of the Church as well as their civil society movement, the Hong Kong Christian Institute (HKCI) and a Catholic delegation visited Taipei from March 18 to 21. Gratefully, we were able to meet with many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) as well as some church representatives during our short visit. The dramatic election in Taiwan and its implications have provided many significant lessons for the people of Hong Kong as well as the international community.
ˇ@ˇ@During the March 20 election, Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian was reelected by a paper-thin margin of less than 30,000 votes, sparking demands by the opposition alliance for a recount of the 13 million ballots cast. The opposition maintains that, first of all, the number of invalid ballotsˇX330,000ˇXis quite large. Secondly, the opposition blue camp (Kuomintang [KMT] and People's First Party [PFP]) accuse the ruling green camp (Democratic Progressive Party [DPP]) of creating a fake assassination attempt on the eve of the election in which the president and Vice President Annette Lu Hsiu-lien received minor wounds to generate a sympathy vote, prompting the KMT-PFP alliance to also call for the election to be annulled. The credibility of Chen and the election depend on how Chen and the green camp can prove to the people of Taiwan and the world that the shooting was not staged. Moreover, if serious irregularities are discovered in the election itself, a new election should be rescheduled.
ˇ@ˇ@In addition to the presidential election, Taiwan's voters also were asked to vote in the island's first referendum. Pushed by Chen, the voters were asked to make choices on two questionsˇXwhether Taiwan should boost its anti-missile defences if the mainland refuses to withdraw its nearly 500 missiles pointed at the island and whether Taiwan should construct a framework for dialogue with the mainland. The mainland government, which views Chen with deep distrust, claims that the referendum represents a campaign for independence in disguise. Since the number who answered the two questions fell short of 50 percent, the referendum failed to pass.
ˇ@ˇ@To properly understand this election, we must put it in context by recalling Taiwan's history and noting that its democratic development began only two decades ago and has involved a long, hard struggle. Both Chen and Lu were sentenced to jail and suffered under the KMT's rule. From the massacre of the people of Taiwan on Feb. 28, 1947, in what is known on the island as the 2-28 Incident to the 1990s, the military, security and ideological organs of the KMT-controlled State were dominated by those who fled the mainland in 1949 and their Taiwanese-born children. Later more than 50 prominent opposition figures were jailed or murdered during the Kaohsiung Incident in 1979. Afterwards the people of Taiwan became bolder and more determined to demand self-government, environmental protection, women's rights, the civil rights of Aborigines, academic freedom and an end to censorship. In September 1986, opposition politicians defied martial law and established the DPP whose platform called for a general parliamentary election and "self-determination" for the future of Taiwan.
ˇ@ˇ@Because of their history, the people of Taiwan dearly treasure their political rights to elect their leaders, and the island's political landscape is regarded as one of the most active in Asia as reflected in the 80 percent voting rate in this presidential election.
ˇ@ˇ@However, Taiwan's election politics also exposed many weaknesses and limitations. According to the comments of many NGO activists, they feel frustrated that Taiwan's electoral politics has been influenced by two major identity groups that are rooted politically in the KMT and DPP. Because of the historic burden that both parties carry from the past, the people in Taiwan are deeply divided. This division is not only rooted in party politics, but its influence also affects families and schools as well as Taiwan's churches. We were told by a church pastor that the elder members of his congregation, who were related with the KMT in the past, felt very upset and angry when they learned that the younger generation of the church had joined the 2-28 Protect Taiwan activities. In fact, the two generations have never been able to talk to each other rationally about their vision for Taiwan's future because of their different political stances and their different identity groups.
ˇ@ˇ@Disillusioned by both the green and blue camps, some NGOs, including labour and women's groups, teachers, a disabled parents association, organisations promoting elderly welfare and peace education, jointly formed a coalition called the Purple Movement in order to seek healing and reconciliation for the people of Taiwan. Their objectives include (1) to break down the static dichotomy of either green or blue to promote reconciliation among different ethnic and identity groups; (2) to develop a social security net to protect the rights of citizens to basic social security protection; (3) to develop sustainable social and medical policies which respect human dignity and promote inclusiveness and a caring community; and (4) to develop a fair and just taxation system and reduce election expenses. We were especially enlightened by their insightful interpretation of Taiwan as a home for all different identity groups and their vision to enable the people of Taiwan to move beyond the existing form of electoral politics and seek reconciliation. Because election politics in Taiwan is currently organised through competition and exclusion, there must be a third party to provide an alternative in order to see new possibilities beyond the dichotomy of winning or losing.
ˇ@ˇ@We have also learned a great deal from the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan
(PCT) during the many years they were so courageous and brave to stand in solidarity
with the suffering people of Taiwan through decades of persecution and oppression
by the KMT. As Taiwan's democratisation develops, however, I believe that the
challenge for the churches in Taiwan will be how to heal society's historical
and electoral wounds based on the principle of truth and reconciliation. As
the Rev. Lim Chong-chen, PCT associate general secretary, said in a forum convened
by the Taiwan Church News on March 21, "The disciples of Christ, the people
of God, must strive for a path that resolves the split." In order to be
a just peacemaker, the Church, I believe, should maintain an independent and
critical perspective and distance from all political parties and should actively
involve itself in Taiwan's civil society movement. Overall, Taiwan's presidential
election is a good lesson for all of us to rethink the limits of election politics
and the possibilities which lie beyond it.