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Lee should return to 'Mr. Democracy'

Lee should return to 'Mr. Democracy'

With less than a month before the March 22 presidential election, the question of whether former president Lee Teng-hui, long seen as Taiwan's "Mr. Democracy," will support Democratic Progressive Party candidate and former premier Frank Hsieh or Kuomintang nominee Ma Ying-jeou is attracting intense interest.
Lee may have sent a hint of his position last week when he echoed the demands by KMT politicians that the DPP government should separate the March 22 presidential poll from the balloting for two referendums, respectively initiated by the DPP advocating application to join the United Nations under the name of "Taiwan" and one by the KMT calling for an application for "readmission" under the name of the Republic of China.
In the wake of Lee's remarks, numerous "green" supporters expressed regret that the former president had not engaged in dialogue on this issue with President Chen Shui-bian's administration or the DPP instead of publicly criticizing the government and raising the demand only a month prior to election and after the Central Election Commission had announced that the 3 polls would be held concurrently.
We believe that the most important issue is not speculation on Lee's partisanship, but whether this action reflects a retreat from his commitment to defend Taiwan's democracy and substantive independence.
It is undeniable that the DPP and the broad "pan-green" camp aimed to put the "U.N. for Taiwan" referendum on the presidential ballot since the movement, which collected over 2.72 million signatures, began last summer, but the reason is less related to any desire to boost the DPP's vote total but to ensure that the "UN for Taiwan" referendum has a chance of valid passage under the absurdly high 50 percent turnout quorum required by the "birdcage" Referendum Law passed by the KMT-controlled Legislative Yuan in November 2003.
Lee's advocacy fails to take into account that the law's requirement for such an extremely high turnout quorum (compared to maximum of 25 percent in most European nations) such a high turnout quorum is fundamentally anti-democratic.
Such an extremely high requirement virtually requires that referendums be linked with major elections if they are to have any chance of valid passage.
Moreover, this requirement leaves referendums vulnerable to anti-democratic boycotts, which effectively grant people who refuse or fail to exercise their right to vote gain an unrepresentative and undemocratic "veto" over decisions made by active and concerned citizens who exercise their right of political participation by learning about the issues and voting in referendums.
Vital for Taiwan
Lee's position also ignores the fundamental fact that, regardless of his attitude toward the motives of President Chen or the DPP itself, it is vital for Taiwan's survival in international society for at least one of the two initiatives to pass, especially in the wake of the declaration by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last March that Taiwan is considered part of the People's Republic of China.
In the wake of Ban's statement, if the government and people of Taiwan do not clearly indicate that they want distinct representation in the U.N., persons such as Ban as well as the PRC will be able to claim that the people of Taiwan tacitly accept this position.
Even though the authoritarian PRC regime and even appeasement minded democratic states have openly opposed the U.N.-related referenda, the international community will closely watch the result.
If the 23 million people of Taiwan themselves lack the political will and moral courage to speak out for their own rights, there will be little cause for us to expect democratic and progressive forces in the world community to support our right of self-determination or even distinct representation from the PRC in sovereignty based and even non-sovereignty based international organizations.
Lee's tacit support for the KMT's anti-democratic stance also stands as a negation of the validity of the process of direct democracy and his own principle that "sovereignty rests with the people."
The call by DPP presidential candidate Frank Hsieh for DPP supporters to vote in both referendums and to "respect" the rival KMT version has already removed the factor of "partisanship" from the two referenda, while the DPP's obvious aim to boost voter turnout is perfectly in accord with democratic principles.
It has been the KMT which has consistently acted to prevent, restrain and then undermine the value and practice of referendums in our society in line with both its own anti-democratic character and in tune with its obvious desire to appease the PRC's opposition to any and all referendums in Taiwan precisely because the institution of direct democracy is the best manifestation of the principle of "sovereignty rests with the people."
At this decisive moment in Taiwan's history and at a time when the Taiwan people have for the first time the opportunity to declare through their ballots that they want Taiwan to join the community of nations as an equal member, we urge Lee to acting as "Mr. Democracy" and use his influence to encourage all citizens, including the opposition KMT, to exercise their rights and vote in both referendums.


Updated : 2020-12-01 14:12 GMT+08:00