Taiwan Takes Giant Step Toward Full Democracy

TAIWAN has elected opposition party members to a potent role in parliament, becoming the first Chinese-speaking society to pass this critical milestone toward full democracy. The island Saturday swept enough members of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) into the legislature to enable the opposition to initiate bills there. The vote was seen as a rebuke by history to hard-line communist leaders on mainland China.

The vote has also thrust the DPP from a role as a shrill and powerless parliamentary nuisance into the position as a hands-on administrator and lawmaker. The DPP will pose the first check ever to the ruling Nationalist (Kuomintang) Party on Taiwan, analysts say.

Moreover, the election has signaled to nationalists that they must accelerate the pace of democratic reform, the analysts say.

The DPP, which just 29 months ago was considered illegal, won 35 percent of the vote, compared to 22 percent when it ran illicitly in 1986, according to an unofficial tally. The election was the first time the ruling party has faced a legal opposition since it fled to Taiwan after its defeat by communists on mainland China in 1949.

In addition to the 22 members elected tot the legislative Yuan, the island-appointed opposition lawmakers to six of the 21 posts as city and county magistrate. From these positions the opposition will be able to obstruct ruling party policies handed down from Taipei.

``Taiwan is the first Chinese-speaking society to have a viable, loyal opposition - this is a historical event for we Chinese,'' says magazine publisher Antonio Chiang.

The election will help dispel the fear among intellectuals on Taiwan and the mainland that the traditions from thousand of years on authoritarian politics will crush the flowering of democracy in China, say academics, officials, and other analysts on Taiwan.

Nevertheless, DPP spokesman Tsai Shih-yuan yesterday said that the island-wide elections were the most fraudulent in a decade. His party has contested the ballot counting in four races.

The government enthusiastically compared the island's biggest and freest election ever with the brutal crackdown on the mainland against pro-democracy activists that began with the June 3-4 massacre in Beijing.

Communist leaders on the mainland ``should feel ashamed that there is an active, live democracy where people are free to express their will whereas people on the other side (of the Strait) are under the iron-hand suppression of the communists - they should emulate what we call the `Taiwan Experience,''' government spokesman Shaw Yu-ming said yesterday.

Yet obstacles remaining from the Nationalists' harsh, authoritarian past have deterred the island from achieving a fully representative democracy.

The president is not directly elected but is appointed by the National Assembly, where only about 7 percent of the members were elected on Taiwan. The remaining members were elected to the assembly on the mainland in 1947 and help prop up the Nationalists' claim to represent all China.

The legislative Yuan, the island's lawmaking body, is also predominantly made up of aging leaders from across the strait.

Clinging to their claim to the mainland, the nationalists refuse to put these seats up for grabs. So, the DPP would not have won a legislative majority even with 100 percent of the vote.

Moreover, like the president, the mayors of Taipei and Kaohsiung are appointed by the party rather than directly elected. And the opposition faces a de facto ban on television and radio advertising and laws barring free speech over the question whether Taiwan should declare itself an independent nation separate from China.

The vote has encouraged the government to consider removing the lingering relics from strong-man rule at a faster pace, says government spokesman Mr. Shaw.

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