A ferment of democratic reform is sweeping across Taiwan, bringing to the fore a new breed of legislator, impatient with cobwebbed shibboleths, intent on throwing open long-closed doors. Shau-kong Jaw typifies this new generation. He was born of mainlander parents and belongs to the ruling Kuomintang - the Chinese Nationalist Party.
But he proclaims, ``I am Taiwanese,'' and wants to turn the 2-million-member party into an organ of mass participatory democracy.
Opposition politics have been lively on Taiwan, and the international news media have focused, especially since the lifting of martial law July 15, on the main opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
But Western observers here say the Kuomintang is likely to remain the ruling party at least through the remaining years of this century - on condition, however, that it turns itself from a party centered on the government bureaucracy to one that can respond to the demands and needs of an increasingly pluralistic society.
``The power of the party should come from the bottom up, not from the top down,'' Mr. Jaw said in a recent interview. ``Most of our members are well-educated, with at least a high-school diploma. Let them participate.''
Jaw joined the Kuomintang when he was a freshman at National Taiwan University, the Harvard of Taiwan. He later got an engineering degree from Clemson University in South Carolina, and served for six years as Asian manager for Imperial Oil, a subsidiary of Beatrice Foods. He traveled constantly in East and Southeast Asia.
But then, in his early 30s, he tired of living out of suitcases, ``and also I wanted to do something for my country.''
So, in 1981, he ran for the Taipei City Council. His was far from being the usual political pattern on the island. Instead of spending two or three years building up contacts and forming an organization, he declared his candidacy only a month before elections, managing to persuade the Kuomintang to run him as an experiment. He racked up the highest total of any of the KMT's candidates.
Reelected in 1985, he decided to run for the Legislative Yuan, the national legislature, the following year. Once again he elbowed aside established KMT candidates to get the highest tally in his party.
Jaw says the DPP, which has been getting 25 percent of the popular vote, could increase its share to 30 or 35 percent, if it stays united. He adds that it will be difficult for the DPP to replace the KMT and become the ruling party.
To many DPP adherents, the KMT still represents the mainlanders who came over in 1949, but Jaw and others point out that the majority of KMT members now are Taiwanese. As second- and third-generation mainlanders grow up on the island, Jaw says, the distinction between Taiwanese and mainlanders grows less important.
Jaw upholds the government's three ``no's'' regarding the mainland - no negotiations, no contacts, and no compromise. But he says the ban should be enforced flexibly, and he notes that with the recent lifting of the interdiction on direct travel to Hong Kong, inhabitants of Taiwan are free to go on to the mainland.
As Taiwan becomes a prosperous and demonstrably democratic country, Jaw says, it should become more attractive to the mainland Chinese - to such an extent, he says, that eventually Peking, which advocates travel and trade, may be forced to close its door.
Turning to domestic affairs, Jaw recalls that most members of the Legislative Yuan were elected when the KMT controlled the mainland. They fled to Taiwan in 1949, and since no new elections could be held on the mainland, they have grown progressively older, until today the majority of the 311 members are in their 80s.
Taiwan, as a province of China, had members in the Legislative Yuan at least since the elections of 1947. Taiwan's representation since has been increased to 73. In addition, there are 27 members elected by overseas Chinese and other categories of voters, such as aborigines.
One of the key democratic reforms being debated is how to turn the Yuan into a truly representative legislature. The DPP wants to do away with mainland members altogether, but that would infringe a shibboleth important to both the government here and to the Communist government in Peking - namely, that China is one.
The communists tolerate the KMT government because they regard it as a remnant of the regime that fled the mainland in 1949, not as some new, independent entity. And from Taipei's viewpoint, the government on the island still is the Republic of China, which will someday be reunified with the mainland.
The compromise solution for democratizing the legislature Jaw espouses is to accord retirement benefits generous enough to persuade perhaps half of the 200 or so mainland-elected members to give up their seats, and let natural attrition take care of the rest.
Another urgent need, says Jaw, is to increase the weight of the legislative arm within the KMT itself. Under a separation of powers similar to that in the United States, a legislator cannot take up a ministerial of any other post in the executive branch without giving up his seat. Hitherto the legislature has been so unimportant that, among the 31 standing committee members of the party, only one is a member of the Legislative Yuan.
``At least 10 of the 31 should be from the legislature,'' says Jaw. That, in his opinion, would make the leadership more responsive to the voice of the people.
Finally, on the question of independence, or self-determination, Jaw says a recent poll in Taipei showed 57 percent against independence, and only eight percent for. Along with many other observers, both Taiwanese and mainlanders, he says the majority of Taiwanese recognize independence is a non-issue.
``Our most important priority is survival,'' he said. ``How would 19 million of us survive and be democratic, prosperous, strong? Independence is academic theory. It is not a politically practical possibility.''