Democratic elections have much to teach us

Charles Tan

In Mr Cheng Shoong Tats article (Today, 29 March 2004) on the current state of affairs in Taiwan and Malaysian elections, he argued that Taiwans democracy is flawed and that the political deadlock is more harmful than beneficial.

Nothing could be further away from the truth.

In a truly democratic nation, the actions of the supporters of the Pro Blue alliance in Taiwan should be allowed to express their views openly and freely. The protests demonstrate the commitment and demand of the Taiwanese people for a fair and just election.

It is an indication of the high level of involvement in Taiwans political process. It is noteworthy too that the demonstrations were conducted in a non-violent manner with no police brutality recorded.
The politicians, aware of the seriousness of the situation have since, tried to solve their differences through peaceful and conciliatory talks.

Declared as the winner of the elections, President Chen has gallantly agreed to make available an immediate recount, passing over bureaucratic hurdles. He has also allowed an independent investigation of the shooting to quell rumours that the incident was staged.

Malaysias elections, on the other hand, are far from hopeful as Cheng claims. The elections were not perceived as fair. A local monitoring organisation, Malaysians for Free and Fair Elections, has called for the resignation of the election commission chief and his entire team, saying the poll was the worst managed since independence. This does not even take into account the media which is government-controlled.

Mr Cheng implied in his commentary that politicians in Taiwan, particularly, Chen Shui Bian, as the instigator of the nations unrest. Yet, despite the mud-slinging by the Chinese government, his opponent and mass media, Chen has never advocated or implied the use of violence, declaration of martial law or censoring the media, which Asian dictators are fond of doing.

One can look at Taiwans commitment to democracy with that of Malaysia. The actions of the Malaysian government then during the height of Reformasi, displayed its disdain and disrespect for human rights by breaking up demonstrations with police brutality, jailing dissidents without giving them a fair trial, and blatantly pressurising and censoring the local media.

Mr Cheng views large scale demonstrations as disruptive to society and unwanted. It is however these public group displays that are a good indicator of the state of democratisation in a country. Government reaction to these displays shows its level of belief and commitment towards democracy.

As Asians, we should be glad that the government of Taiwan and its people have proven that they can contain and resolve issues peacefully through the democratic process. China, which has been warning about taking military action against Taiwan will be forced to concede that the Taiwanese desire for democracy is something they have to take into consideration in its future attempts to discredit its status and leaders.

Now that the dust has settled, authoritarian regimes in Asia will have an even lesser hold on the claim that there is such a thing as Asian values that are inimical to democracy. History will prove that the pursuit of political freedom and human rights is universal and inalienable to all.

Like Mr Cheng I too am of the view that both elections are vivid lessons in democracy. However, unlike Mr Cheng, I believe that the one held in Taiwan demonstrates a capability to handle crisis well because it fully respects human rights, while the one in Malaysia has yet to prove itself when faced with a political crisis.