Voting with Confidence in the Future

In an editorial, the Taipei Times has come out strongly in favor of President Chen Shui-bian's re-election on March 20. A vote of confidence for the president, argues the paper, would be a boost to all struggling democracies world-wide. It would prove that other nations cannot influence domestic political elections while guaranteeing the validity of the democratic process. Taiwan should not give into the growing powers of Chinese nationalism, which have only gotten stronger as the economy has gotten weaker. The Times asserts that the fault of the economic downturn lies not at Chen's door, but with the greater worldwide depression. Chen should not be held accountable for the stagnant global economy. Rather, the Taiwanese people should embrace "the pains of reform" and be willing to sacrifice immediate gratification for long-term democratization. Any other outcome, the paper concludes, would bolster the forces of the "ancien regimes" that are always looking to regain a foothold in any fledgling democracy. – YaleGlobal

Voting with Confidence in the Future

Thursday, March 11, 2004

During an interview with this newspaper (published in two parts, yesterday and today) President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) said an election victory for him on March 20 would be significant for Asian democracies because it will make the nation the first Asian country to break free from the shackles of its ancien regime and move toward a mature democracy. He also reminded everyone that a victory for him would also mean that the voters had chosen not to yield to China's intimidation or any type of international pressure, but rather to walk their own path.

With the political forces of the ancien regime waiting for an opportunity to make a comeback, and in the face of young democracies the world over which are also facing similar situations, it is hard not to agree with Chen. Just as he pointed out in the interview, the biggest danger for those countries pursuing democracy is the question of whether their peoples are ready to accept the pain of reforms.

Looking at countries in Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe which have recently emerged from authoritarianism, it is clear from their development that democratic reforms are a long and messy road. For example, the people may lose their desire to continue on the path of reforms due to the temporary pain of the reforms. Reactionary conservatives can still make a comeback. Voters in these countries appear to have a short memory, and -- amid the pain and chaos of the early days of reforms -- some begin to long for the stability and economic order they remember from the authoritarian system. Prime examples of such wayward nostalgia are South Koreans who long for a leader such as Park Chung-hee, who ruled the country with an iron fist for 18 years, and the recent Mao Zedong (毛澤東) fever in China. The remnants of the ancien regimes can make a comeback with new slogans and new packaging.

The nation is at a crossroads -- it will either deepen its democracy or regress. It is time to remind the voters and the friends of this country that the people must stand firm on the ideals of democratic reform. Voters must make the correct historic choice. All those countries friendly to Taiwan should view the March 20 election with sympathy and support the universal values of democracy and reforms.

It has not been easy for the Taiwanese people to gain an opportunity to hold their first national referendum. The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the People First Party (PFP) have shown their clear contempt for the referendum and have launched a drive to dissuade people from voting in it. They even echoed Beijing's opposition to such referendums. They have used Chinese nationalism to mobilize the pro-unification groups and oppose the referendum in an attempt to eliminate the momentum of reforms and the rise of a Taiwanese consciousness.

The lackluster performance of the nation's economy in the past four years has fueled some people's discontent and their willingness to blame Chen despite the fact that the global economy has also been in the doldrums during this time. Some voters yearn for the days of the bubble economy under the KMT, when the stock market seemed to rise every day. They forget the pyramid schemes that collapsed and the embezzlements that robbed many people of their savings.

Fortunately the global economy has been recovering. The success of the Chen government's financial reforms are paving the way for a better future, just as the people's enthusiasm for democratic reforms will signify the arrival of spring for the nation's politics and economy. Chen's re-election would also be a shot in the arm for countries facing a similar situation.

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