Democracy the best cure for Taiwanese ills

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 December, 2010, 12:00am

That there have now been two important elections marred by assassination attempts casts a sad hue on the short history of Taiwanese democracy. Taiwan is often remarked upon for its political scandals, worries over economic development, and outbreaks of aggressive, sometimes violent confrontation in the legislature. Such incidents detract from a deeper assessment of what democracy in Taiwan has achieved, and is trying to achieve.

In 2000, the Democratic Progressive Party candidate, Chen Shui-bian won the presidency, resulting in the first transition of power from one party to another in Taiwan. A similar transition took place again in 2008, giving Kuomintang candidate Ma Ying-jeou the presidency. Time and again, the people of Taiwan have shown they are prepared to get involved with their island's politics, and have a say in both its governance and identity. When Chen's pro-independence rhetoric grew too radical and at the expense of the economy, voters threw out the DPP and voted in favour of the KMT, led by Ma, whose image and policies seemed the perfect counterbalance to the years under Chen.

Now, in mayoral elections, which are seen as the midterms for Ma, the voting public has once again spoken in a remarkable turnout of 71.71 per cent. While the KMT retained three of the five seats being contested, it scored an overall vote of 44.54 per cent compared to the DPP's 49.87 per cent, reflecting voters' growing unease at the KMT's focus on economic ties with the mainland. Ma is now expected to fine-tune his policies in response to public sentiment. Indeed, the latest assassination attempt, on Lien Sheng-wen, now believed to be linked to bookmaking, was a perfect reminder of why the Taiwanese people are anxious about a far wider range of issues within their own society, which demand the attention of their president. During election time, the Taiwanese public guides its leaders back onto a balanced political path. While the assassination attempts took place during elections, democracy is not the source of Taiwan's social ills. But it gives the people the best chance of remedying them.