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Chu Yun-han:

Hope Begins by Confronting Problems

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Hope Begins by Confronting Problems

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When a society tackles its problem squarely, it builds positive momentum. In this exclusive interview, Academia Sinica distinguished fellow Chu Yun-han explains why he sees hope for reforming Taiwan.

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Hope Begins by Confronting Problems

By Fuyuan Hsiao, Yi-Shan Chen
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 540 )

Taiwan's first step toward hope must be the self-awakening of our society.

Taiwanese society is ill in many respects, and not just mildly. That many people cannot sense this is additionally worrisome.

We must become aware of the illnesses in Taiwan's political situation and society today, and begin to build up some energy. Calls for reform will eventually force politicians to set aside their partisanship and take action to resolve structural imbalance.

Our vision for society entails establishing a free, democratic, diverse society in the Chinese world that operates under the rule of law. However, beneath the surface of Taiwan's free and democratic exterior runs a strong undercurrent that is too populist and indulgent. Political influence is checked to an extent by legal strictures in Taiwan, yet bare antagonism exists between the two main Green [pro-DPP] and Blue [pro-KMT] camps, and money, cronyism and personal networking have all encroached upon the justice system. Strictly speaking, therefore, the rule of law has degenerated.

Diverse opinions can be expressed, and people can associate freely, yet society is fissured. Taiwanese society is headless, without a unifying or clear positive force to guide it. Everyone bickers, no one backs down, and they all compete to see who can shout the loudest for resources. Positive energy is stifled as a result, paralyzing the entire political realm and making it difficult to get anything accomplished.

The deeper reason underlying the paralysis is the serious divide between the Blue and Green camps across Taiwanese society. A fundamental emotional divide separates society over such questions as the direction of Taiwan's future and the development of cross-strait relations.

Issue 1: Emotional Divide on Cross-strait Relations

If Taiwan is a ship, everybody wants to wrest control of the tiller. Yet some people want to speed up, while others want to head in a different direction. Even when a leader is duly elected, the other side says they are not willing to let him pilot the ship. Opposition parties hope that the ruling administration accomplishes nothing, for otherwise they will never get an opportunity for themselves. This is a classic example of wasteful internal friction.

There is also an imbalance in the exercise of power. The Legislative Yuan has become a constitutional monster.

Most pundits and media remain mired in outdated thinking from 25 years ago, when the executive authority ruled the roost. Never bothering to fault the nation's parliament for overstretching its powers to counter executive authority, they merely claim that the issue lies with executive power and insist on having an autonomous Congress.

The current political crisis has actually seen a turning of the tables, where the Legislative Yuan is a bucking bronco off its reins that can be identified as the source of the chaos. China's early Republican period suffered from division under assorted warlords, while today's Taiwan – rifted by administrative and legislative imbalance – is essentially carved up politically.

Each legislator is a mini warlord running his own territory. Given the chance, they bully administrative authority to extract what they seek from it. For whom? For backers with money, for political operatives, and every so often for their constituents.

Issue 2: Constitutional Monster Unleashed by Representatives

These days any given legislator can get a vice minister or bureau chief to come to his office and take a dressing down, and corporations with legislators on their side can be on hand to grease the skids on deals and arrangements. In effect, then, the Republic of China has more than 100 premiers. Assorted groups, businesses, and industries know full well that it is more effective to see a legislator, making the Legislative Yuan like a market where one takes a number and gets in line.

The warlords of the legislature, big and small, have established numerous unconstitutional precedents over the past decade or more. For instance, during the annual budget review legislators do not make large budget cuts, since doing so would hinder them when they go to government agencies looking for quid pro quo arrangements.

They exact their revenge by piling all sorts of riders on bills. According to the letter of the Budget Act, anything not related to budgetary issues is illegal (when attached to budget bills). However, because the legislators sponsoring the bills watch administrative departments like hawks, the administration is compelled to play along.

Issue 3: Media Stuck in the 80s

Why does the media pay no attention to these issues? Because in their judgment this is the norm for a democratic country? Actually, no democratic country operates this way.

The monster of the Legislative Yuan wields legislative authority, and as constitutional revisions must be initiated with that body, it is difficult to expect any sort of change to come along. Consequently, the media and society must generate a powerful wave of calls for reform in order to force politicians to set aside partisanship and attempt to tackle structural imbalance.

The greater the pressure on them the greater the likelihood that politicians with different styles and images will emerge.

In any society, generational changing of the guard is a major force for reform. This is why we must expose our university students to different concepts and ideas, and not allow them to be both rudderless and numb.

Translated from the Chinese by David Toman.

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