Democracy in action, warts and all
The unresolved dispute over Taiwan's election, which prompted violent protests last weekend, has not been a good advertisement for democracy. It provided this year of elections worldwide with an unhappy start. Elsewhere in the region, however, the signs are rather more promising.
In Indonesia, votes are still being counted in legislative elections held last week. The electorate of 147 million appears to have embraced the polls with enthusiasm. It is estimated the turnout was about 87 per cent. The results so far suggest President Megawati Sukarnoputri's party is likely to suffer a narrow defeat. This jeopardises her position ahead of the presidential election in July. A victory for former dictator Suharto's Golkar party might not appear to boost Indonesia's democratic credentials. But the plunge in support for Ms Megawati's party is evidence that voters are making use of a key function of the democratic process - to pass judgment on the performance of the nation's leader.
Ms Megawati is seen as having failed to curb sufficiently Indonesia's rampant corruption or deal with its high unemployment. Many voters have switched support to her former security chief, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who has emerged as a key challenger for the presidency. He is seen as being more likely to push through reforms.
The elections are fulfilling their role as a means through which the public can influence policy - and, for better or worse, bring about the changes in leadership they desire.
In the Philippines, presidential polls will be held next month. The buildup has been plagued by uncertainty. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has faced a coup attempt and one of her main rivals, film star Fernando Poe Jnr, had to fight a court battle in order to be allowed to stand. But here, too, the views of the electorate are already influencing events. Poe, whose glitzy campaign has appeared to be based more on style than substance, is faltering in the opinion polls. He is now making a desperate attempt to join forces with another opposition candidate. There is much at stake as the country seeks to improve its troubled economy and tackle the threat posed by extremist insurgents.
Then there is the election in Malaysia, which saw a landslide victory for the government of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi over the fundamentalist Islamic opposition. The wide support for his moderate policies and strong stand on corruption was a victory for common sense.
All of these elections have had their problems. The nature of democracy is such; it is rarely a tidy affair. But its value lies simply in the ability of the people to influence events which affect their lives.
This, ultimately, must also prove to be the case in Taiwan. It is why the crisis there must be brought to a satisfactory conclusion.