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'Direct democracy' killing the representative system?

Publication Date : 21-03-2014


Activists protesting the Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement stormed the Legislative Yuan on Tuesday and seized control of the Assembly Hall, marking a historic first in Taiwan politics.

As of yesterday, an estimated 200 activists have stationed themselves in the Assembly Hall, replete with sleeping bags and supplies, while thousands have surrounded the entire compound.

As a sign of protest against the pact, an activist slit his wrist yesterday morning and painted a heart symbol on a pillar in front of the Assembly Hall.

Things are heating up.

In spite of the administration's efforts to promote the pact, protesters decided to take matters into their own hands in an attempt to prevent lawmakers from ratifying it. Commentaries soon emerged online, discussing whether or not democracy had died or had been revived in light of recent developments.

The protesters argue that the pact is essentially a backroom deal between the Kuomintang (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party, and that the ruling party is trying to get it ratified without the consent of the people.

According to these activists, seizing control of the Legislative Yuan was a move intended to reassert the power of the people, to prove that the people reigned supreme in this nation.

Regardless of whether one is for or against the pact, it is clear that representative democracy has been brought to a standstill on this island, and in its stead has come “direct democracy”, or so the activists and their supporters believe.

It is within people's rights to express themselves and exercise their democratic rights, but it is not exactly clear whether these activists actually represent “the will of the people”. They are no doubt representing themselves, but do they represent the majority?

It also comes down to a question of whether or not the ends justify the means. Let us suppose that the Legislature was poised to pass a bill that legalised same-sex marriage. If activists seized control of the Assembly Hall in an attempt to prevent the hypothetical bill from passing, would that constitute direct democracy? Or let us suppose that lawmakers had decided to pass an amendment to abolish the death penalty, but were prevented through the same means. Would that be interpreted as a form of direct democracy?

Members of parliament are elected on the premise that they represent the interests of their constituencies. In theory at least, voters are less inclined to re-elect candidates who failed them the previous term.

The aforementioned protesters were largely prompted to take matters into their hands after lawmakers failed to conduct an article-by-article review of the pact in accordance with cross-caucus negotiations. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has laid the responsibility for this failure on the KMT. According to DPP legislators, their ruling party counterparts had one-sidedly decided that the review process had been completed. Meanwhile, the KMT argued that according to the Law Governing the Legislative Yuan's Powers, when an executive order has been submitted for committee review for more than three months, the review process is deemed complete. KMT lawmakers further pointed out that their DPP counterparts had repeatedly asserted that the pact will not clear the Legislature, and that the opposition is not sincere about reviewing the pact.

One would be hard pressed to find an eligible voter in the right frame of mind who would say that the pact should be ratified without the consent of the people and/or without any form of review.

If the public feels that lawmakers have failed to represent the will of the people, they should stop re-electing the same candidates and/or strip the lawmakers in question of their power through the Civil Servants Election and Recall Act.


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