‘Illiberal democracy’ emerging in Taiwan: former President Ma

A couple poses for a selfie outside the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, Taiwan, Friday, Jan. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

TAIPEI (CNA) — The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration is sliding further and further toward authoritarianism, with an “illiberal democracy” now emerging in Taiwan, former President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said Thursday.

The term “Illiberal democracy” was first coined in 1970s in the United States to describe a partial democracy in which regular elections are held but the head of state transgresses constitutional rules and the law when he or she gets into office, Ma said.

“It never occurred to me that the rise of an illiberal democracy would also be seen in Taiwan,” Ma said at the launch of a biography about his presidency 2008-2016.

Ma was commenting on three proposals recently made by the Transitional Justice Commission (TRC) to remove symbols of the country’s authoritarian past, including the image of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) on banknotes and coins.

The TRC also suggested that the military honor guard at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall be discontinued and that statues of Chiang be removed from military bases.

Ma said the TRC’s proposals and the DPP administration’s obstruction of Kuan Chung-ming’s (管中閔) appointment as president of National Taiwan University were indications of the rise of an “illiberal democracy” in Taiwan.

In the biography, Ma questions the motives of the DPP administration in its pursuit of transitional justice, saying there have been allegations that the objective of the TRC is not so much to achieve reconciliation as to annihilate his party, the Kuomintang (KMT).

The TRC was set up in May under the Act on Promoting Transitional Justice, which was passed last year, to deal with injustices that occurred during Taiwan’s era of authoritarianism (1945-1987) by revealing the historical facts, redressing judicial wrongs and promoting reconciliation.

In the biography — “A Memoir of Eight Year in Office,” by Hsiao Hsu-tsen (蕭旭岑), former deputy secretary-general of the Presidential Office — Ma says the the DPP’s transitional justice initiative is an “anachronism” and a signal that the government is sliding toward authoritarianism.

On Tuesday, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said that “neither the TRC nor the president” has the final say on whether to put the TRC’s three recent proposals into practice.

She said the TRC was established with the aim of uncovering historical truth by creating a platform for discussions by history researchers and people with different views of the Taiwan’s history so as to gain a better understanding of the past.

She cited as an example the discussions facilitated by the Ministry of Culture between two groups on either end of the political spectrum — the Blue Sky Action Alliance and pro-independence activists — on how to remodel Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.

That type of dialogue is very important to the process of bringing reconciliation, Tsai said.

By Shih Hsiu-chuan