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Oct 20, 2008

On Ma, authoritarianism and the Party-State

There's been a lot of apprehension about Ma taking Taiwan back to the bad old days in the Green-leaning media, DPP leadership and Green voters/sympathizers. Not to mention English blows on Taiwan. I am inclined to believe the media and DPP is reacting with feigned apprehension meant to fan the flames, while the grass roots are genuinely alarmed.

This apprehension is not without cause; Ma has made several mostly symbolic moves that raise these concerns (restoration of the cult of Chiang Kai-shek, reversal of emphasis on the word 'Taiwan', etc). Ma has also made significant rhetorical concessions toward China without any (public) negotiations, all for the purpose of gaining access and currying favor on labor, tourism, and cargo flights, and presumably in hopes of future concessions on a peace agreement, missle removal, etc.

But in discussions I've lately had with light-blue voters, who really ought to be considered the bulk of blue voters (or at least the most critical sector), you will find a sense that:

(1) further economic integration with China is both desirable and unavoidable;
(2) Ma's rhetorical and symbolic changes are relatively insignificant, and can not affect Taiwan's de facto independence and democracy;
(3) Taiwanese people of all stripes would without doubt refuse unification, would fight to defend their freedoms and will not let the KMT roll back the democratic clock.

At this point, while I'm more wary than Blue voters of the symbolic and rhetorical changes of the Ma administration, and while I am suspect of Ma's ultimate intentions, I must agree with my light blue compatriots -- Ma has not been able to change anything fundamental about Taiwan's independence and democracy, and it will be very hard for him to do so.

And I have to say I've been particularly disappointed in Liberty Times and the DPP legislators, who have really just dropped reasonable debate and criticism for all out, bombastic attacks. It seems like an act of pure revenge and certainly does not raise their standing in the eyes of the swing/otherwise disinterested voters.

So perhaps there is not so much cause for pessimism. Perhaps we can dial down our own alarmism, however good the intentions that prompted our rhetorical flares.

Or perhaps I'm preparing to surrender?


Carlos said...

Good point. It reminds me of the Democrats in Congress the last two years - contrary to their promises, they've focused quite heavily on symbolic stuff and just pissed everyone off. Their low approval rate reflects that.

If most Taiwanese don't care that they have to go by Chinese Taipei, or that the pandas are coming under infra-national rules, then the DPP is just making itself look extremist. By all means voice the concerns and try to convince people that those things are problems (I'm convinced), but now's not a good time to marginalize themselves even more. They have to get better at choosing their battles.

Sophia said...

Perhaps DPP can do a better job and how they say it but I don't think Ma or KMT's 'rhetorical symbolism' affects nothing. It changes people's perception nationally and internationally.

Democracy doesn't just mean people being able to vote but also means an accountable government. Ma's avoiding people's representatives overseeing cross-strait deals, KMT passing bad legislatures and policies or passing good policies that they blocked when DPP was in power, interfering and controlling the media, I believe, are fundamental changes in Taiwan's democracy. Ma can do a lot of damage stealthily and it will be too late for anyone to cry out loud if it's a done deal. Looking at Ma's record so far, whatever he says he's not doing, he probably is.

BTW, after Wu's highly publicised visit to Beijing, a friend from Belgium who's not a political animal asked me 'Is Taiwan still independent? I thought someone said you are the same now?'

阿牛 said...

Thanks for all the comments guys, and fair points all the way around I think.