Sunday, November 30, 2014

Taiwan – where a vote means something

Taiwan’s Prime Minister, Jian Yi-huah resigned after his ruling Kuomintang Party (KMT) suffered a landslide defeat in the country’s local and municipal elections, saying he took “political responsibility” for the heavy losses.

The responsibility lies with the policies of the KMT itself which ordinary Taiwanese see as making the country too dependent on mainland China for its economic wellbeing. The election results reinforce the views of the people, made clear earlier this year during massive demonstrations against a planned trade pact with Beijing.

The result will give new impetus to the China-sceptic Opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) which held power from 2000-08. A DPP victory at the Presidential poll in 2016 would infuriate Beijing which sees Taiwan as a renegade province that must eventually return to the motherland.

If Taiwanese have any doubts what that might mean they have only to look across the Taiwan Straits to Hong Kong where long-running pro-democracy demonstrations are being put down with increasing police violence.

The demonstrators there are calling for the right to freely elect their leaders – something that was promised by China when it took over Hong Kong from the British in 1997 and declared it a Special Administrative Region.

After years of procrastination, Beijing said the election could take place in 2017, but only with candidates it has “approved”, something that demonstrators believe will result in a meaningless contest between pro-China stooges.

The difference between Taiwan and Hong Kong is stark. Taiwan is a vibrant democracy and the will of its electorate is paramount. The young people who took to the streets to celebrate the KMT’s downfall know that they have a stake in their country’s future – and that future does not involve taking orders from an authoritarian clique in far-off Beijing.

In contrast Hong Kong is treating its young activists (the vast majority of the pro-democracy demonstrators are under 40) with baton-charges, pepper spraying and beatings. Chief Executive, Leung Chun-ying has said there is “not a chance” that Beijing will water-down its right to decide who Hong Kongers should vote for.

And in an incredible statement for the representative of a political philosophy that supposedly espouses the establishment of a classless society, Mr Leung said free elections were not possible “because they would result in the poor dominating politics”.

In a further indication that Beijing is strengthening its hold over Hong Kong, a delegation of British Members of Parliament on a fact-finding mission have been told by the Chinese Embassy in London that they would be denied entry into the Special Administrative Region.

The delegation wanted to review Hong Kong’s relations with the United Kingdom 30 years after it negotiated terms for the handover. Beijing said that would be interference in its internal affairs.

It is no wonder that young Hong Kongers are casting envious eyes at the freedoms their counterparts enjoy across the Taiwan Strait.

And no wonder that as far as the youth of Taiwan are concerned, reunion with the mainland is a dead issue.          






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