'People power' could bring disaster
By Lee Wen-chung and Tuan Yi-kang
Tuesday, Sep 12, 2006,Page 8
`It is only when a country's constitutional system falters and all systemic measures lose efficacy that a popular movement can legitimately adopt methods to overturn the system. Unfortunately, even this can have unforeseen negative effects on that country's democratic development.'
Regardless of changes in theories about democracy and the increasing complexity of benchmarks for measuring democratic progress, political participation remains the core value of democracy. The easiest way to implement this value is to let the public manifest its wishes in elections under a representative system.
This means that allotting political power through periodic, fair and free elections with mid-term polls serving as a barometer of the government's success or failure make up one important standard for measuring the level of a country's democratic development. To protect the stability of the system, attacks on democratic election mechanisms should be avoided, since that might hurt one of the cornerstones of democracy. If the president or the government behave immorally or are incompetent to the point that their legitimacy is damaged, these leaders should be deposed through impeachment, recall, a vote of no confidence or at the ballot box. This is how democracy works.
We are not trying to say that popular movements are always a bad thing. On the contrary, in a country where democracy and the rule of law have not been completely implemented, popular movements are the most important source of pressure on the national leadership to implement reform. Even so, the goals proposed by such popular movements must still be achieved and implemented within the system. A typical example is the Wild Lily Student Movement of the 1990s. This could be called the first large-scale popular movement challenging the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime, and it was also the catalyst for similar types of political participation by Taiwanese society.
The main demand of the movement was for a new elections for the legislature, which at that time was made up of legislators elected in China prior to 1949. Although that demand wasn't immediately implemented, the process became a major source of pressure on the KMT's authoritarian government. Then-president Lee Teng-hui was forced to call a national affairs conference, initiate a series of constitutional amendments, force senior members of the National Assembly and legislature to resign and hold new legislative elections. This whole process represented a peaceful revolution that was welcomed by the Taiwanese people.
It is only when a country's constitutional system falters and all systemic measures lose efficacy -- in particular, when the government uses armed force or other illegitimate methods to overturn a democratic system or an election result -- that a popular movement can legitimately adopt methods to overturn the system. Unfortunately, even this can have unforeseen negative effects on that country's democratic development.
Let's use the Philippines as an example. In 1972, General Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law. He then changed the Constitution to cement his dictatorship, and in 1983 killed his main opponent, Benigno Aquino. In the 1986 presidential election, official figures had Marcos as the winner with 10.1 million votes, against Corazon Aquino's 9,2 million votes. Both within the Philippines and internationally, vote-rigging was suspected, and the opposition camp declared its refusal to accept the official result. People rose up in response and forced Marcos to step down in what amounted to a revolution by popular power.
Following the revolution, the Philippines returned to democracy, but a Pandora's box had been opened -- the Philippines is now described by many academics as the worst example of a democratic system. From the days of president Corazon Aquino until today, when the incumbent president is facing the threat of military coups and public movements demanding that she step down, the political situation has remained chaotic, society has remained unstable, and the economy has failed to take off.
A close look at the organization of Shih Ming-teh's campaign to force President Chen Shui-bian to step down shows that it includes people from the pan-blue camp that deny Chen's legitimacy to rule, supporters dissatisfied with the government's achievements over the past six years and others who see Chen and his family as corrupt. We reject all of these positions. The vote recount and the judiciary's verdict proved that the outcome of the 2004 presidential election was not the result of vote-rigging; dissatisfaction with the government's lackluster achievements was amply reflected in last year's three-in-one local government elections; and courts are still investigating the question of the First Family's morals and integrity. Furthermore, the constitutional mechanisms for impeachment or a vote of no confidence in the Cabinet have still not been used.
This is why we cannot support the use of a popular campaign that attacks the stability of our democracy. This point of view is supported by Lee's success and the failure in the Philippines. If the demands of Shih's campaign are not handled within the system, we worry that the nation could be facing disaster.
Lee Wen-chung is a Democratic Progressive Party legislator. Tuan Yi-kang is a former convener of the party's New Tide faction.
Translated by Perry Svensson