Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Headlines, Human Rights

Taiwanese Ponder Democracy Deficit

Dennis Engbarth

TAIPEI, May 29 2011 (IPS) - A coalition of Taiwan social activists has warned that the island country’s democracy is now in a state of ”stagnation” after three years of government under the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang or KMT) administration of President Ma Ying-jeou.

During a ”Diagnosis of Democracy in Taiwan under the Ma administration” held in Taipei last week, the Taiwan Democracy Platform, a coalition of leading civic and social movement activists and scholars, highlighted a ”Top 10” list of ”democracy incidents”.

National Taiwan University Associate Professor of Law Ms Chen Chao-ju said the selection was made by 170 scholars, social activists, professional and lawyers from 60 major democracy incidents that occurred in Taiwan from May 1, 2010 to May 1, 2011, and finalised by the Taiwan Democracy Platform.

The list was led by the apparently successful civic struggle against a government-backed plan to construct a 20 billion dollar petrochemical industry complex offshore Changhua County on Taiwan’s west coast which environmentalists maintained would destroy rare marshland, add gravely to Taiwan’s ”carbon dioxide footprint” and fatally threaten the survival of the Taiwan Pink Dolphin.

In the wake of an intense campaign against the ”Kuokuang (National Glory) Project” and the inability to secure a clear endorsement from an environmental impact assessment commission, President Ma announced in late April that his administration would not build the complex in Changhua County.

Former Taiwan Environmental Protection Union president Ms Hsu Kuang-jung told IPS that Ma ”has left open the possibility that he might reverse his decision after the elections or build the Kuokuang complex somewhere else.”

Other environment-related incidents included a struggle over a government takeover of farm land to build a high technology plant near the high-profile Hsinchu Science-Based Industrial Park and the revival of Taiwan’s anti-nuclear power movement in the wake of the explosion of Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant in March and the Ma government’s declaration of continued support for the construction of a bitterly controversial 10 billion dollar fourth nuclear power plant in northeast Taiwan.

Three human rights and judicial incidents were also included, notably Ma’s decision to resume execution of death penalties that have included seven executions since April 2010 despite protests from domestic and international human rights groups and the finding by Taipei District prosecutors in January that Air Force private Chiang Kuo-ching had been tortured by Air Force counter-intelligence agents for a confession, convicted in a military tribunal and wrongly executed in August 1997 for the September 1996 rape and murder of a five-year old girl.

On May 24, prosecutors indicted another an Air Force private in the same unit for the murder but failed to file any charges against former defence minister and Air Force chief-of-staff Chen Chao-min and eight other military officers involved in Chiang’s interrogation and torture.

The list also included two incidents related to news freedom, namely interference by the ruling KMT in the selection of the board of directors of Taiwan’s public television network and the controversy over ”embedded advertising” by KMT government ministries and Chinese agencies in Taiwan’s mainstream television and print media.

The TDP listed ”political interference”, namely from the KMT government and ruling party lawmakers, in the selection of the management and organisation of Taiwan Public Television Service network as sixth on the list and the flap over ”news buying” through embedded advertising by KMT government ministries as seventh.

The TDP criticised ”the Ma government’s use of public resources and people’s taxes to ‘buy news’ and promote government policies on disputed issues including the ECFA, the Kuokuang petrochemical complex, nuclear power and KMT candidates in the Nov. 27 mayoral elections for five metropolises.

The TDP ”top 10” was completed with the rejection by a government ”referendum review commission” of several petitions by opposition parties and civic groups for a national citizen referendum on the controversial ”Cross-Strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement” signed between non-official representatives of the Taiwan and Chinese governments on Jun. 29, 2010.

Cross-Strait Agreement Monitoring Alliance Convenor Lai Chung-chiang related that ”the Ma government used all sorts of pretexts to stymie and avoid national citizen referendum or legislative monitoring and supervision of cross-strait agreements including ECFA.”

Noting that the KMT government was willing to pass a special law that allowed a referendum on whether to permit casinos in the Penghu islands, Lai questioned whether the KMT government sees ”gambling as more important than cross-strait agreements that involve Taiwan’s sovereignty.”

Other issues that nearly made the ”Top 10” included lack of protection for the labour rights of ”atypical” workers and the rising number of deaths through overwork concerns for the security of financial information of Taiwan citizens in the wake of the KMT government’s decision to allow Chinese state-owned banks to establish branches or invest in Taiwan domestic banks, discrimination against indigenous peoples and rising concern over worsening wealth and income inequalities.

”This year’s list indicates that social justice issues may become the greatest crisis for Taiwan’s democracy,” said National Taiwan University Professor of Law Yen Chueh-an.

National Youth Alliance representative Ms Kuo Chu-yuan added that the citizen pressure had exercised a ”surprising” impact in the movement against the Kuokuang petrochemical complex and other resistance campaigns and ”have allowed us to see the concern, activism, creativity and determination of a new generation of youth for all kinds of social issues.”

 
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