For Chinese translation, click here. Many thanks to Chen-Yu Chan for the translation.

Stanford University’s Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) and its affiliated Taiwan Democracy Program held its annual conference of scholars this past weekend on October 17th and 18th, on polarized politics in Taiwan. While the scholars offered observations on Taiwan’s political scene after the Sunflower Movement, the attendees generally agreed that at this point there are more questions than answers for Taiwan’s future.

According to CDDRL director Prof. Larry Diamond, political polarization is characterized by mutually incompatible positions on the political spectrum, a lack of trust towards institutions, and willingness to embrace non-democratic alternatives; these characteristics fit Taiwan’s political scene today, according to conference discussions.

Prof. Yun-han Chu, the president of the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange, said that Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan’s closed-door party caucus negotiations (黨團協商) give the Speaker considerable leverage over the President, which caused deadlock and distrust in the government’s ability to govern.

On the controversial topic of trade with China and the backlash of the Sunflower Movement student protests, Prof. Pei-shan Lee of National Chung Cheng University suggested that  support for the movement has waned, as indicated by a survey by Taiwan Indicator Survey Research in June that those in support of signing the Cross-Straits Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA) had rose to 38.9% from 22.3% during the protests, while those who oppose signing the agreement dropped to 43.8% from 56.3% during the protests. Lee and several other academics said that the benefits of trade with China has not been evenly distributed across social classes in Taiwan, but that youth anger over the fears of economic integration was unwarranted and occupying the parliament chamber was an illegal act that threatened the rule of law.

Those attended also mentioned that Taiwan’s economy needs new solutions, such as encouraging more students to study abroad, especially in the sciences and engineering. The media’s negative portrayal of the KMT’s economic policies were also cited as a reason for polarized politics. The discussion ended on a note that while Taiwan’s economic and political challenges are great, its transitioning democratic system is so far unable to handle those challenges and that no one has come up with any good answers so far.

Meanwhile, also on Saturday the founder of Flanc Radical (基進側翼, or FR) Shinichi Chen (陳奕齊) and chief of staff Yen Ming-wei (顏銘緯) spoke to the Taiwanese American community in Palo Alto as part of a West Coast tour. Yen is known for being the 18 year old student who threw a copy of George H. Kerr’s Formosa Betrayed at President Ma Ying-jeou three weeks ago.

Chen spoke of the need for a political renaissance in Taiwan, and that his group was dedicated to educating the public on political thought. His group, the FR, also holds that Taiwan is still in transition to democracy, and that the KMT, as a fascist authoritarian political party, is not fit to be part of a democratic system until it is abolished and reorganized. Furthermore, the group rejects using referendums to decide Taiwan’s sovereignty, and supports social redistributive policies.

As for the question of polarization of Taiwan’s political spectrum, Chen said his group is even more anti-KMT and pro-independence than the DPP. “We are expanding the spectrum so that the DPP becomes a ‘safe’ choice for voters,” Chen said.

The group has nominated five candidates to run in city council elections this November, and plans to nominate candidates for national parliamentary elections in 2016. Our interview with one of FR’s Kaohsiung city council candidates Chen Hsin-yu (陳信諭) can be found here.

(Feature photo of discussions at Stanford’s Taiwan Democracy Program conference, by Chieh-Ting Yeh)


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