Anyone who’s read my previous comments on the recall process over the last two weeks will know I think it was a ridiculous parody of a properly functioning democracy … hence the ‘carnival of idiots’ tag. So I was interested to read an article by Lung Ying-tai (龍應台) (via ESWN) which tried to put a positive spin on it all.
I have a lot of respect for Lung – she’s a very articulate commentator who manages to be remarkably uncynical and pretty non-partisan (albeit blue-tinted) when writing about Taiwan and its politics. Her articles are almost always worth reading and thinking about. Unfortunately, in this article she seems desperate to spin the recall movement as a ‘victory for the Taiwanese people’:
A glorious day is today. Today is a glorious day. Future history will record that on June 27, 2006, the people of Taiwan exercised to their right to urge a president to resign.
Unfortunately, she’s lost it in the first paragraph:’the people of Taiwan’ have not exercised anything. From the beginning, the recall process has been purely of the politicians, by the politicians, and for the politicians – and it has perished from the earth. She then continues about the average Taiwanese voter:
He has thrown off the chains of power, he has tried elections and he has tried referenda. Now, he has taken another step to attempt an ouster vote. The ouster may not succeed, but the people have issued a clear warning to political figures: I can elect you, and I can also recall you.
Again, she’s wrong. Let me rewrite it for her:
The KMT has lost the reigns of power, it has tried elections and it has tried to block referenda. Now, it has taken another step to attempt an ouster vote. The ouster has not succeeded, but the KMT have been issued a clear warning: It couldn’t beat Chen in elections, and it also can’t recall him.
Not quite such a positive thing now. The sad thing is, she follows up with something I agree with completely:
Nobody in the world can deny this: Taiwan has a group of citizens who have the highest political sensitivity, maturity and autonomy in the entire Chinese-language world.
The Taiwanese voters are an admirable bunch. Unfortunately they regularly elect a group of politicians who have the lowest political sensitivity, maturity and autonomy in the entire democratic world (Update: Sun Bin points out in the comments that there are worse democratic politicians that the Taiwanese. It’s easy to forget that when watching Taiwan Politics!). This apparant disconnect can be explained by the simple question: “How on earth did Chen Shui-bian get elected in the first place?”, to which the answer is “Didn’t you see who he was running against?”.
The article does make a couple of very valid points:
- It is at least a good thing that corruption scandals can be alleged and examined against the president. This touches on something I have been meaning to write about for a while: You can expect corruption in Taiwan to be seen to get worse before it get better. The endemic corruption that has plagued Taiwan for decades is not going to go away overnight – but the increased exposure of individual cases will help reduce it (while increasing its profile)
- Chen Shui-bian (and ALL other Taiwanese politicians) are products of their society. In particular, people go into politics to make money, not to serve the people (of course there are exceptions, but you won’t go far wrong if you use it as a guiding principle).
Midway through the piece, Lung identifies one of the major problems of politics today:
As for an ideal that we can look forward to — who can say what the ideal of Taiwan is? In this society, it has been years since anyone talked about ideals. The entire efforts of the country are invested in the debate over one person. A critical key to solving problems became the source of problems instead.
She is absolutely right – and I would agree with her if she were to say that Taiwan would be better off without Chen as president for precisely that reason. So, if the incessant debate about Chen’s rule is one of the fundamental problems in Taiwan today, then how can a recall process that (from the beginning) had absolutely no chance of success be anything other than a complete disaster? Given her statement above, it’s a pity that Lung doesn’t think to criticize the people who are driving this pointless debate about Chen.