The World Today for August 25, 2021



Recall Rage

Is too much democracy a bad thing? If you ask some progressive politicians in Taiwan these days, they would likely answer yes.

That’s because a mechanism that was intended to deepen democracy is now being wielded as a weapon in “partisan revenge politics,” the Diplomat wrote. Taiwan is going recall-crazy. It has actually become easier to recall a politician than to elect one, the Diplomat said.

The dismay by many in the country centers around a rarely used electoral tool to remove elected politicians that exists in many Western democracies called the recall referendum. It began getting renewed attention in the US after the high-profile governor of California, Gavin Newsom, became a target of the recall. The Washington Post called the situation, “democracy spinning out of control.”

In Taiwan, it wasn’t supposed to be this way. About five years ago, lawmakers changed the rules to make it easier to recall elected officials, a move initiated by progressives and supported by President Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the Taipei Times wrote. They were responding to pressure from the Sunflower Student Movement, which sprung up to oppose the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT, or Kuomintang) after it passed a trade pact many worried would give China political leverage over Taiwan. The student protestors wanted more direct democracy to kick out corrupt officials and entrenched politicians to make way for younger, more progressive and more pro-Taiwan officials – and fewer Kuomintang politicians.

Now, the recall mechanism is being weaponized against the same progressives that wanted it.

The recall madness kicked off in June 2020 with the successful ouster of Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang, known as “Taiwan’s Trump.” He became the first municipal leader to be recalled in Taiwan’s history, Focus Taiwan wrote.

Since then, there have been five more recall attempts of elected officials, according to local media. Of six, two have been kicked out of office so far. The latest target is Freddy Lim, an internationally known rock star turned activist-legislator, whose recall petition just passed the first phase.

According to progressives, the pro-China Kuomintang which opposed the 2016 legislation to make recalls easier, has now declared open season on opponents using the mechanism: The Kuomintang has vowed to take out those who voted against Han, such as Taichung legislator Chen Po-wei of the Taiwan Statebuilding Party. That vote is slated for October.

In most countries, recalls are not easy as thresholds are kept high to avoid constant turmoil. But in Taiwan since the rule change, “the political process has become so accessible to the public that it has actually become a hindrance to Taiwan’s democracy, rather than an asset…distracting politicians from actually doing their jobs…(as they) spend months focused on the recall campaign…,” wrote Lev Nachman, a research fellow at the Harvard Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies and Brian Hioe, editor of New Bloom, in the Diplomat.

And what’s next? A referendum at the end of the year to make referendums easier possibly means that the Taiwanese might become so busy with democracy that they have little time and attention left for the governing of it.

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