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Taiwan's Political Deadlock

Taiwan's Political Deadlock

How to Enhance Taiwan's Resilience as a Shining Example of East Asian Liberal Democracy

As a Hong Konger, I have witnessed firsthand how institutions can crumble when an authoritarian regime, such as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), undermines and eventually erodes the institutions of a once free and open society. The CCP, often thinking of themselves as playing the long game, has systematically dismantled Hong Kong's freedoms and institutions. For years, the people of Hong Kong have struggled and fought for universal suffrage as a crucial safeguard of individual liberty.

We failed, so we hope Taiwan will flourish as a shining example of a Liberal Democracy.

While Taiwan has achieved universal suffrage, societal and political institutions do not operate in isolation or a vacuum. The interplay and intricacies of different institutions can reinforce or undermine each other, depending on whether their roles and functions are rationally reconciled. Therefore, progress toward constitutionalism is needed for this nascent liberal democracy to withstand the challenges from within and without. The political deadlock presents not a crisis but a window of opportunity to reflect on what will create long-term sustaining success for the island nation.

Recent Conflicts and Political Deadlock

Recent conflicts in Taiwan have highlighted the underlying tensions within its political system.

The two main opposition parties, the Kuomintang (KMT) and Taiwan People's Party (TPP), which have enough seats for a majority, have joined hands to back changes that give parliament greater scrutiny over the government. One proposal is for lawmakers to punish officials deemed to commit contempt of parliament by making false statements or "withholding information."

However, critics argue that the legislative proposal also lacks a clear definition and that the move is more about partisan advantage than the public good.

This legislation has ignited protests from DPP supporters as there was little discussion on the bill. The deadlock reveals partisan bickering, which might leave some people disheartened about politics and public civil discourse.

Judiciary Oversight, Constitutionalism, and Separation of Powers

The Judicial Yuan, Taiwan's judicial branch, oversees all court systems, including the Constitutional Court, which interprets the Constitution and adjudicates significant cases. In the early years of Taiwan's democratization, when the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) dominated all branches of government, the Judicial Yuan was often perceived as merely an apparatus of the regime. However, it has gained much more respect over the years, especially regarding the judiciary's independence.

The rule of law requires a robust, nonpartisan, and independent judiciary to ensure that all institutions are subject to and accountable under the law. While parliaments are powerful and can legislate on a wide range of issues, their powers are not absolute. Judicial oversight means laws passed by the legislature must comply with the Constitution and legislative due process and ultimately serve to protect individual rights from potential overreach. If a law is found to violate constitutional principles or any procedural impropriety, the judiciary has the authority and responsibility to strike it down.

Instead of giving parliament the power to punish members of the executive branch, Taiwan should further empower its judiciary and guarantee its absolute independence to enhance its resilience as a democratic nation. An independent nonpartisan judiciary will not only be able to resolve political impasses, but even if the said legislation is passed, it will uphold the constitutional principles.

I am not advocating for judicial activism. However, it is far more desirable to take the issue to the court than to the street, especially when it comes to constitutionality, legality, and procedural propriety.

Partisanship, Parliamentary Customs, and Political Culture

Democracy is not just about electoral politics but also rational debate, which leads to consensus-building and ultimately protects individual rights. Should Taiwan fail to move from antagonistic partisanship and build consensus on constitutional reform, the nascent liberal democracy might eventually degenerate into populism and a crisis that could bring down its institutions.

Taiwan is not the only nation facing the challenge of overcoming the rising tide of populism. Having said that, I am optimistic that the Taiwanese people can eventually make the right decision. The transformation will not be easy, but it is necessary for Taiwan's society's stability and progress.

The transformation requires a sublimation in the political culture and how people understand democracy. Elected representatives must be mindful that they represent not just the people who voted for them but the general interests of the nation as a whole.

A properly functioning parliament is not just about winning enough seats to control the parliament under simple majority rule. The parliament fails if it puts partisan interests above the general interests of the people.

In some other established liberal democracies, mechanisms are often built in to ensure that even minority political representations have ample opportunity to participate. For instance, parliamentary commissions have formal or informal customs requiring bipartisan or multiparty formation. This inclusiveness ensures that discussions are comprehensive and diverse perspectives are considered.

On critical issues such as safeguarding fundamental freedoms, societal diversity, and cohesion, elected officials and civil society need to find common ground through principled, reasoned, and civilized debate in the public sphere.

Although it might seem disheartening to see people taking the issues to the street, the public voicing their opinions is a necessary part of the discourse, and freedom of expression must be defended at all costs.

An Opportunity for Taiwan

Taiwanese people have struggled for freedom in the past decades, which gives us hope that the nation can prevail and eventually come to a consensus.

Taiwan's nascent democratic institution, having just emerged from authoritarian rule since the late 1980s, has not yet had the chance to fully develop a robust constitutional framework, including a culture and a mechanism for coming to a consensus or an empowered independent judiciary to check the power of the two other branches of government.

Taiwanese people undoubtedly embrace liberty and their way of life as they are. The question is how to do it. Some might believe building a global presence and strengthening ties with major powers will help. But at the end of the day, nation-building requires robust underlying institutions to bring people together for collective interests.

Mainland Chinese living across the strait will also be watching. Although ultra-nationalistic sentiment and the narrative of one China are dominant in the mainland, a liberal democratic Taiwan that is sustainable and flourishing will make mainland Chinese question the legitimacy of the oppressive regime they are living under.

To put it simply, the Chinese Communist Party is afraid of not only Taiwanese independence but also its people asking questions of why they do not deserve a better institution like the one in Taiwan.

This moment presents an opportunity for the new DPP administration to establish its legacy and legitimacy as a liberal democratic leader. By leading the discussion on constitutional reform, strengthening the institution, and transcending partisan politics, the DPP can play a pivotal role in building a more resilient and inclusive democratic system.

Lastly, I hope my Hong Konger brethren who find a new home in Taiwan can play a constructive role in the public discourse. Taiwan's success can demonstrate to the world that an ethnically and culturally East Asian society can thrive as a shining example of modern liberal democracy. Strengthening the liberal democratic institution would benefit Taiwan's citizens and serve as a beacon of hope for those aspiring to freedom and democracy in the region and beyond.

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