TDB Vol. 3. No. 5: Hong Kong’s Crisis Over the Controversial Extradition Bill and the Impact on Taiwan

TDB Vol. 3. No. 5: Hong Kong’s Crisis Over the Controversial Extradition Bill and the Impact on Taiwan

Under normal circumstances, and had Beijing respected its side of the agreement under the ‘one country, two systems’ framework, a proposed extradition bill should not have unduly alarmed Hong Kong society. Instead, it caused a serious backlash fueled by fears that the bill would be used to disappear pro-democracy forces in Hong Kong and give Xi Jinping the legal instruments he needs to target his critics under the guise of his anti-corruption drive. J. Michael Cole analyzes the situation.

 

Hong Kong riot police on July 1 once again used batons and pepper spray to disperse crowds of protesters who were blocking streets in the city on the 22nd anniversary of the return of the former British colony to Chinese rule. In recent weeks, millions of people have rallied against the attempted passage of a controversial extradition bill that would permit the transfer of crime suspects in Hong Kong to China proper for trial. Critics say the amendment would sound the death knell of Hong Kong as a semi-autonomous region and render obsolete the idea that the special administrative region can retain some of its independence under the “one country, two systems” formula.

The large youth-led protests, not seen since the Umbrella Movement in 2014, have received wide coverage in international media. In next-door Taiwan, which Beijing hopes to incorporate into the People’s Republic of China under the same offer of “one country, two systems” (the formula was in fact first proposed for Taiwan in 1981 and only subsequently applied to Hong Kong), extensive coverage of the protests has exacerbated opposition to unification under Beijing’s blueprint.

Following back-to-back million-plus rallies last month, the pro-Beijing Hong Kong Chief Executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, announced that her government would shelve the bill. Hopes that suspension of the bill would appease protesters and buy time for the authorities were dashed, however, as civil society called for the bill to be scrapped permanently, for charges brought against protesters be dropped, and for Lam to step down.

Lam, 61, was “elected” in March 2017 with 777 votes from Hong Kong’s Election Committee, whose 1,194-members are composed mostly of Beijing loyalists.

Widespread opposition to the extradition bill stems from the elite-driven and largely unaccountable workings of the Hong Kong government, which is seen to be subservient to the authoritarian Chinese Communist Party. The gradual erosion of freedoms in the semi-autonomous region since 1997, a process which is seen to have accelerated under CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping, has alarmed residents who hitherto may have been willing to give the authorities the benefit of the doubt (those who did not left in droves, emigrating to places like Canada and Australia). Hong Kong’s loss of control over its borders, among other things, with decisions on who can enter and leave the territory increasingly made by Beijing, added to clear indications that universal suffrage will not materialize under current conditions, have compounded the view that “one country, two systems” was little more than a grand deception. 

Taiwanese show support for protesters in Hong Kong (Photo: CHIANG YING-YING)

Besides causing jitters within the business sector in the financial hub, the proposed extradition bill has also sparked alarm among pro-democracy and -localization groups, who fear that their members could be renditioned to China proper for various “crimes” under the National Security Law, where it is unlikely they would receive a fair trial. Hong Kong activists are also aware of the high likelihood that, while in detention, they would be exposed to poor conditions, abuse and torture. The bill has also had a chilling effect on the willingness of politicized Taiwanese to visit the territory, for fear that they, too, could be arrested for loosely defined “crimes” against the PRC and spirited to China for trial. A number of Taiwanese, most prominently rights activist Lee Ming-che, are currently in detention in China for “crimes” against the state.

Much speculation has surrounded the attempt to expedite passage of the extradition bill. According to some experts, the move was miscalculation on the part of Lam, who may have convinced herself (and Beijing) that the bill was necessary to address a legal gap identified when Taiwan sought the extradition of Chan Tong-kai, a 19-year-old suspect in a murder case in Taiwan. Under normal circumstances, and had Beijing respected its side of the agreement under the “one country, two systems” framework, the bill should not have alarmed Hong Kong society as it did in the past month. Instead, it caused a serious backlash fueled by fears that the bill would be used to nab pro-democracy forces in Hong Kong and give Xi the legal instruments he needs to target his critics under the guise of his anti-corruption drive. 

Lam may have oversold her ability to pass the bill without controversy, and Beijing, distracted with other issues such as the trade war with the United States and bad publicity surrounding its treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, may not have fully appreciated the potential for unrest. According to some, the extradition bill wasn’t even a priority for Beijing. In the opaque and conspiracy-laden world of CCP politics, rumors have also circulated that enemies of Xi Jinping within the “Shanghai/Jiang Zemin” faction may have played a role in the controversy as a way to cause headaches for, and to discredit, Xi. 

Whatever the origin of this mess — miscalculation or conspiracy — the effects on the legitimacy of “one country, two systems” have been extensive. Despite her best efforts to limit its repercussions, Lam’s credibility in the eyes of Hong Kong society and with Beijing has probably suffered irreparable damage. Beyond Hong Kong, the effects have also been considerable. The controversy has served as another reminder that the “one country, two systems” formula, which Xi has made an intrinsic component of “one China” and the so-called “1992 consensus,” has practically zero attraction among the Taiwanese except among extremists in the pro-unification camp. This “linkage,” which Beijing has sought to break since the dramatic events of 2014, has been reinforced by recent developments, as showcased by the high levels of support shown by Taiwan’s civil society and government for the protesters in Hong Kong. Once again, the existence of the semi-autonomous region as a “canary in the mineshaft” has been reaffirmed for the Taiwanese.

TDB Vol. 3 No. 4: A Vast Network of State Surveillance Permeated Society During Taiwan’s Authoritarian Era

TDB Vol. 3 No. 4: A Vast Network of State Surveillance Permeated Society During Taiwan’s Authoritarian Era

As the archives are opened, we are learning more about the extent of the party-state’s intelligence-gathering inside people’s homes and on university campuses. Recently released files and video documentaries help tell that story of Taiwan’s dark past. Alison Hsiao reports.

 

The Transitional Justice Commission, officially established in May 2018, weathered a political crisis that nearly blew it out only three months into its operations and undermined public confidence in its ability to meet its objectives. But recently, it has received positive attention for its success in piecing together the full picture of the surveillance efforts targeting the Taiwanese during the authoritarian era.

‘A diary kept by others’

Reading through stacks of files that recorded their lives more than three decades ago, the activists-turned-scholars/lawyers/historians were separately being monitored once again through the lens of a video camera, this time as part of a short documentary released by the Commission at the end of May.

The files were kept by the intelligence agencies during 1980s to keep close tabs on those who the regime regarded as possible “disruptors” on university campuses. Among other things, they found letters sent by a mother to a son doing his mandatory military service, the floor plans of the apartment where he once lived, and details of their entertainments that they had almost forgotten.

“We often found that our activities were being preemptively targeted,” Lin Kuo-min, professor of sociology at National Taiwan University, said of his campus life when he was a student activist. Historian Yang Pi-chuan, jailed in the 1970s for his political views and who worked as a club instructor of Taiwanese history at NTU after his release from prison, found photos of his apartment and rooms in his files.

The informers appeared in the files under code names, but using various details, Lin and Yang were able to identify them. They could be the nanny who once babysat your child, or one whom you’ve considered a good friend to this day.

“I know all the people in the files from front to back,” said Yang. “Of course I’m much saddened by the fact that they…” he did not finish the sentence.

According to the files collected by the Commission, more than 5,000 informers were co-opted or installed on university campuses around the country by 1983.

A screenshot from the short video documentary released by the Transitional Justice Commission

The Commission said it will invite more of those who were targeted by government surveillance, and if possible, informers, to read the archives. There has been, and surely there will be a more heated, debate on whether these files should be made fully open to the public. Although some informers appeared under code names, there were real names, too. The approach to make transparent these political surveillance files varies across post-authoritarian countries, with some making them fully open to the public while others have chosen to limit access to those who were directly involved only.

“No one enjoys being a snitch. They were either lured or threatened,” Yang said. According to the Commission, the techniques used to recruit informers included the agents heaping debts on a person by taking him/her to a gambling den, where underhanded measures ensured the target would accumulate substantial debt.

On June 1 the Commission released another 18-minute film written by Hung Tzu-ying, the screenwriter of On Children, and directed by award-winning director Lo Ging-zim (who was also behind the ghost month commercial that sparked discussion with its underlying historical innuendos). The short film depicts a dying man who asks his son to return copies of a “diary” he had written, under the military instructor’s cajoling and intimidation, to his college friend.

Based on the archives collected by the Commission, the film shows not only the informer’s betrayal but also his conundrum. It also points to the fact that the information could be partly fabricated for the sake of reporting on a targeted individual.

“The surveillance records could be mottled with agents or informants’ misinformation generated with biases and deliberate exaggerations, as other countries’ transitional justice experiences have shown. Judgments therefore cannot be made based on surveillance files alone,” the Commission said.

Education-intelligence-party surveillance complex

By the 1980s, surveillance activities against students and schools had been a fact of life for quite a while already. As early as the 1950s, the Kuomintang (KMT) had set up “anti-communist struggle research teams” at universities to execute political investigative tasks. In the 1970s, the KMT transferred the work to the intelligence agencies, but continued to oversee the coordination between the agencies and the Ministry of Education (MOE).

“Chun Feng Briefing” (春風會報; Chun Feng, literally “spring wind,” can be used to describe the “positive influence” of a teacher) was a national campus security briefing against “disturbing” elements first set up in response to a student movement driven by the cause of “protecting the Diaoyutai Islands” in the 1970s. The briefing mechanism consisted of party units, government agencies (MOE, Investigation Bureau, and National Police Agency), as well as military units, taking charge of information-gathering and decision making pertaining to campus security.

When Huang Erh-hsuan, a founding member of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and former associate professor of political science at Soochow University, died in February, the university’s student body and political science department filed a petition to the Commission, in the hopes of finding the truth behind the sudden sacking of Huang by the university in 1983. According to the Commission’s investigation, Huang’s removal from his position was listed as a major achievement of the campus surveillance system overseen by the regime.

The KMT ramped up its effort in 1983 by setting up a “Campus Stabilization Work Briefing” that convened bi-weekly so that the regime could respond to the “abnormal” incidents and quickly crack down on dissent.

NTU was a particular thorn in the regime’s side, according to the files collected and investigated by the Commission. Student activities at NTU were suspected to be linked to the tangwai. It was against this backdrop that the three men who are featured in the video, among hundreds, were placed under surveillance.

“NTU is the country’s best university. If the free academic atmosphere continues to spread, the survival of the Republic of China could be threatened,” Arthur Shay, the activist-turned-lawyer featured in the video, read from a file by the Investigation Bureau.

Election machine

The survival of the Republic of China apparently also hinged on local elections that were permitted with reluctance during the authoritarian period.

“Chin-tang briefings” (金湯會報) were regularly held by the Investigation Bureau during the Martial Law era for “security and counter-espionage.” Participants included representatives from the security agencies such as the Taiwan Garrison Command, the Ministry of National Defense, military police, police departments, and the 2nd section of personnel offices (人二室; in charge of surveillance in public offices and schools) from the related administrative units. The presence of the KMT’s local chapters was often recorded, and the party’s hierarchical status was demonstrated by the fact that its representatives were always listed in front of those from other agencies.

In meeting minutes in 1981, it was revealed that the party was trying to collect journalists’ handwritings. In another, attention was drawn to the fact that school educators were corresponding more frequently with their families in “bandit-occupied-areas” (i.e., the People’s Republic of China) by taking the letters overseas to be mailed.

With local elections approaching, the briefings also turned into campaign planning. There were no clear lines separating government and party, with the former urging others to ramp up support for KMT candidates, collecting information about rivals and identifying who was assisting the tangwai candidates so they could be “handled” by the security agencies.

Miaoli Chin-tang briefing (left) on the attempt to collect journalists’ handwriting; Taichung Chin-tang briefing (right) on collecting tangwai candidates’ information (photo credit: Transitional Justice Commission)

‘In fear’

Much as the Chinese Communist Party intensifies its persecution and silencing of dissidents on the eve of the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, the KMT regime, the Commission revealed, would tighten its surveillance on former political prisoners, dissidents and families as the anniversary of the February 28 Incident approached.

In a disclosed file from 1970, for example, special measures were planned by the Garrison Command, MND Political Warfare Bureau, the Military Police Headquarters, the Investigation Bureau, the Taiwan Provincial Police Agency and the KMT Central Committee Sixth Taskforce, to prevent “overseas traitors” from using families of 228 victims to “initiate illegal activities.” Agents were asked to more closely watch families of the victims, political prisoners who had served out their terms, and anyone who was suspected of being a possible “rioter.”

A Hualien Chin-tang briefing in 1971 documented how a name list of 228 victims and their families was requested for surveillance, while intelligence agencies were also ordered to monitor how society was reacting to the incident.

“This regime was in fear that it might get overthrown,” Yang said in the video. Out of fear, they in turn sowed fear in the people, and that was “the most destructive aspect of the [authoritarian] system.”

TDB Vol. 3 No. 3: The Ins and Outs of Taiwan’s Landmark Vote on Same-Sex Marriage

TDB Vol. 3 No. 3: The Ins and Outs of Taiwan’s Landmark Vote on Same-Sex Marriage

After years of battling in the legislature and on the streets, a watershed ruling by the Constitutional Court and referenda victories by conservatives, a middle-ground bill was finally passed by the Legislative Yuan on May 17 giving same-sex couples most, though not all, of the same rights as heterosexual couples. But the campaign isn’t over, not for those who oppose marriage equality, and not for members of the LGBTQ community who argue that there is still room for improvement. Alison Hsiao walks us through the issue.

 

More than 500 Taiwanese same-sex couples registered their marriage on May 24, two years to the day after the Council of Grand Justices issued the historic Constitutional Interpretation No. 748, which required the country’s legislative body to make amendments to existing laws to guarantee marriage equality within two years. Since then, controversies abounded as to which laws were to be tweaked or implemented for same-sex couples. Referenda opposing any changes to the Civil Code and calling for a separate law were held, and passed, on Nov. 24, 2018. The Tsai Ing-wen administration came up with a creatively named bill that aimed for the middle ground on the issue, and used its legislative majority to secure its passage. Thus, on May 24, marriage equality was finally achieved in Taiwan…almost.

20 couples attended the collective wedding ceremony held by the Taipei City Government after registering their marriage at Xinyi Household Registration Office on May 24. (Olivia Yang/TFD)

Recognized progress

Marc and Shane were among the couples who had registered their marriage at Taipei’s Xinyi District Household Registration Office on May 24. In a relationship with his partner for the past 12 years, a highly emotional Shane said after registering that in the past he had not dared to display his rainbow flag on his way home despite waving it prominently during his first pride parade. “Today I’m here standing in front of so many people to say outright that I’m getting married, that I’m gay. I feel blessed and really proud of my country for being so progressive.”

Marc and Shane registered their marriage the first day after the same-sex marriage law went into effect.

But many had actually felt despair over the country’s conservativeness just six months ago, when the referenda proposed by anti-same-sex-marriage groups garnered overwhelming public support — with a bit of help from confusing questions.

Referendum Question No. 10 rejected the possibility of the country changing the wording of the Civil Code to include same-sex marriage. And Referendum Question No. 12 said that same-sex couples’ right to “live permanently together” should be governed by a separate law. (Note that although the referendum question deliberately avoided mentioning “marriage,” the explanatory note accompanying the question said the groups believed “marriage equality” should be upheld.)

The twist was that in order to comply with Judicial Interpretation No. 748, which demands “marriage equality,” the groups asked in the referendum questions not whether one approves of same-sex marriage (which would have been a direct challenge to the Interpretation, whose legal status is equivalent to the Constitution), but whether one agrees that the Civil Code should remain unchanged and that same-sex unions should be governed separately.

► See: TDB Volume 2 No. 8 The Anti-Same-Sex-Marriage Referendum Questions and their Implications

The referendum that called for a separate law for same-sex unions — which many in the LGBTQ community regarded as discriminatory — passed on Nov. 24. In response, the government proposed a separate bill and had parliament endorse it before the May 24 deadline.

The Tsai administration, which was not of one mind on the issue, had sought to avoid antagonizing conservatives through using the language of “same-sex marriage” while keeping its promise and the spirit of “marriage equality” enshrined in Interpretation No. 748.

The expedient but clever move, proposed by the Executive Yuan, was a bill titled “The Enforcement Act of the Judicial Yuan Interpretation No. 748.” It was ostensibly in full compliance with Interpretation No. 748, and the words “same-sex marriage” did not appear in the title. This also explains why it was considered a concession to the opposition within the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus, when Premier Su Tseng-chang agreed to remove “same-sex marriage” in Article 2 of the original bill and instead insert “register marriage” in Article 4, a day before the legislative vote.

The vote on Article 4 of “the Enforcement Act of the Judicial Yuan Interpretation No. 748” bill, which included the wording “registering marriage,” decided the nature of relationships for same-sex unions. Of the 113 lawmakers in the Legislative Yuan, 93 were present and 66 voted yes, including 54 from the DPP, seven from the Kuomintang (KMT), and five from the New Power Party. The seven KMT lawmakers, mostly of the younger generation, are reported to have had a heated exchange with the KMT caucus leadership in the caucus meeting before the vote, and some party members have called for them to be punished following the vote.

With the benefit of hindsight, we know now that the passage of the bill was not a foregone conclusion. Local reports revealed that the Tsai administration was still tallying and anxiously calling DPP legislators to talk them into casting a yes vote mere hours before the vote in the legislature. According to many DPP lawmakers, Premier Su Tseng-chang’s powerful message to the DPP caucus, in which he compared the historic moment to the Kaohsiung Incident 40 years ago, when only 15 lawyers, including Su himself, defended political activists against an authoritarian regime, was the game changer.

‘Disinformation’

When the bill was being debated on the legislative floor on May 17, anti-same-sex-marriage lawmakers urged the Legislative Yuan to “respect the referendum results,” which they contended represented the “new public will” and superseded Interpretation No. 748. Even if that were true (and it is not), the bill in no way violates the referendum results.

“Two years ago there was still discussion in the legislature over different versions of the same-sex marriage bill, which included the Civil Code-amending version and a separate-law version. So it is exactly because we respect the referendum results that we have only this bill [of a separate law] today,” the New Power Party’s Freddy Lim told the legislature before the vote.

Lim also denounced several lawmakers, who said of the bill that it “polarized society and manufacturing social conflicts.”

“You know very well that it is not the case, but you decided to go along with those distorted views and disinformation,” he added.

Lim’s denunciation did not prevent the spread of this narrative. On its front page the following day, the Chinese-language China Times headlined its top article, “Slapping the referendum [results] in the face.” Anti-same-sex-marriage groups staged a protest on May 25, in which they accused the Tsai administration of “trampling on the popular will” and declaring that “democracy is dead.”

KMT Legislator Lai Shyh-bao (left) makes remarks at the Legislative Yuan with a placard asking his colleagues to “respect the new popular will of 7.65 million votes.” Anti-gay groups including one that calls themselves “Taiwan Citizenship Solidarity Organization,” staged a protest (middle and right, photo credit: TCSO) a day after the Act went into effect, driving a hearse lamenting “the death of democracy.”

‘Not over’

For anti-same-sex-marriage groups, the fight is not over. They have called on the public to take lawmakers and parties who supported same-sex marriage “off the shelves” in the next elections. On the day the Act coming into effect, anti-same-sex-marriage groups announced they were forming a new political party containing the name “stable power” and would field candidates in the 2020 legislative elections.

For its part, the LGBTQ community is also determined to deal with the unfinished state of the country’s marriage equality. Victoria Hsu of the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights (TAPCPR) said on May 25 — the day the alliance organized a traditional Taiwanese-style wedding banquet for same-sex couples on Ketagalan Boulevard — that since the law initiated by the referendum results can be amended or rescinded two years after its implementation, they will continue to push for the inclusion of same-sex couples in the Civil Code.

The Taiwanese traditional roadside wedding banquet held on May 25, which the TAPCPR said was the realization of a promise made in 2013 when the organization held the first wedding banquet at the same location to campaign for a then-proposed marriage equality bill. Organizers said they will come back to this spot when same-sex marriage is achieved. (photo credit: TAPCPR)

“We understand there was immense pressure on the administration, and this separate law is the best we can have so far,” Hsu said. However, the inability of a same-sex spouse to adopt his or her partner’s non-biological children, the inability to register transnational same-sex marriages in cases where a partner is from a country where same-sex marriage is not legalized, and the non-applicability of in-law relationship to same-sex couples, show that there is still discrimination in how same-sex marriage is treated, she added.

“After May 24, 2021, legislators will have the right to include what is now governed by the separate law into the Civil Code. The reason we have a separate law is exactly because the referendum results are being upheld, so those spreading the rumor about the legislation flouting the referendum results should just stop,” Hsu said.

Chi Chia-wei with the pen: Chi, regarded by many as the godfather of the country’s gay rights movement, received the pen that was used by President Tsai Ing-wen to sign the same-sex marriage law into effect as a gift from the president.

 

TDB Vol. 3 No. 2: Building Tolerance and Inclusiveness: An NGO Conversation with 2018 ADHRA Laureate Gusdurian Network Indonesia

TDB Vol. 3 No. 2: Building Tolerance and Inclusiveness: An NGO Conversation with 2018 ADHRA Laureate Gusdurian Network Indonesia

Three leaders talk about the importance of building a culture of communication to counter intolerance, conservatism and radicalism. Olivia Yang reports.

“Justice will never be an accomplished state. As long as there are individuals and people on this earth, there would always be conflicts. Justice and a world equal for all will always be an elusive state. But humanity progresses. It is almost like a dance as old as time. Two steps ahead, one step back. Sometimes one step ahead and two steps back.”

Thus spoke Alissa Wahid at the 2018 Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award (ADHRA) ceremony in Taipei on Dec. 10, 2018.

Wahid is the founder and national coordinator for the Gusdurian Network Indonesia (GNI), laureate of the 13th ADHRA. The non-governmental organization is currently one of Indonesia’s leading groups combating radicalism and defending those who are discriminated against due to religious and minority suppression.

Established in 2010, the GNI is named after late Indonesian President K.H. Abdurahman Wahid, who was also known colloquially in Indonesia as “Gus Dur.” President Wahid was the first democratically elected president in Indonesia and had strived to promote interfaith dialogue and multiculturalism. His work became an inspiration for many Indonesians, also called “Gusdurians,” even after his death in 2009. The GNI was founded after his passing to encourage and consolidate interaction among Gusdurians, and further promote Gus Dur’s advocacy for minority rights, religious freedom and tolerance.

The main challenges in Indonesia today are religious populism, “hate spins,” radicalism and violent extremism, said Ms. Wahid. This is where the GNI comes in, as the arena for people from all backgrounds to work together as a democracy, especially at a time when the space for human rights activists is becoming gradually restrictive.

“‘God needs no defense,’ Gus Dur used to say. But now we see how God and religion are capitalized to gain political power, to discriminate [against] others, to do injustices. And when done in the name of God, how powerful. So this is [what] we currently focus on,” Wahid said in her acceptance speech.

Reverend Lazarus Chen (陳思豪) of the Koteng Presbyterian Church in Taiwan echoed similar concerns during a conversation with Wahid.

Chen is one of the religious leaders who have publicly supported marriage equality, especially during the lead-up to Taiwan’s referendum on the issue late last year.

Taiwan’s Constitutional Court on May 24, 2017, ruled that Taiwan’s Civil Code violates the Constitution’s guarantees of freedom of marriage and people’s equality. It gave the Taiwanese government two years to amend the law or pass new legislation to legalize same-sex unions.

In the local elections last November, a total of five referendum motions regarding LGBTQI rights were put on the ballot. Three of the motions aimed to refuse same-sex marriage under the Civil Code and ban LGBTQI education in schools. All three motions were approved in the referenda, while the other two pro-LGBTQI rights motions were not.

In the conversation with Wahid, Chen lamented the fear-mongering in Taiwan’s recent anti-same-sex-marriage campaign. According to him, most Christians in Taiwan believe that the Bible claims that homosexuality is a sin and therefore they do not support same-sex marriage. The results of the referenda, the reverend said, were “manipulated by Christians in Taiwan.”

“They use any kind of resource, including spreading disinformation, to influence and frighten the people in Taiwan to refuse same-sex marriage,” he said.

But he also pointed out that Christians only account for 6 percent of the island-nation’s population and called for non-Christian Taiwanese to “not be led by the few vicious Christians.” The reverend then stressed the importance of building a culture of debate and communication in Taiwan.

Wahid emphasized the value of dialogue, adding that although initiating theological conversations on LGBTQI issues in Indonesia is still very challenging — dangerous, even — “it has to start somewhere.”

“I think GNI is the only group that would put a transgender speaker in front of people on a stage, said Wahid. “But it takes a lot of work.”

The GNI national coordinator also emphasized the importance of staying close to those who hold different opinions and not treating them “as enemies because we need to influence them to have different perspectives.”

While working to enhance communication between groups that hold different values, Taiwan also strives to build tolerance toward Southeast Asian migrant workers, who currently account for nearly 700,000 of the country’s population.

Chang Cheng (張正), also a speaker at the conversation with Wahid, works to resolve the discrimination between Southeast Asians and Taiwanese through his Southeast Asia-themed bookstore, Brilliant Time Bookstore.

The bookstore runs a program called, “Bring Back A Book that You Cannot Read.” It encourages Taiwanese who travel to Southeast Asian countries to return with a book which is then given to migrant workers or spouses in Taiwan. This gives Taiwanese an opportunity to show kindness towards the migrant workers, said Chang. In addition to the program, the bookstore hosts around 30 talks each year on Southeast Asia topics to help the Taiwanese people learn more about the region and its cultures.

Chang also launched the Taiwan Literature Award for Migrants in 2014 with a goal to give and facilitate the Taiwan society in learning more about them. The first prize for the literature award is NT$100,000 (US$3,200), and last year, the award also received submissions from migrant workers in Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia and Singapore. Chang said they are expecting to expand to South Korea and Japan this year.

“If we learn more about them, discrimination will be less,” said Chang. “In the dark, it is everyone’s duty to hold the torch.”

Reverend Lazarus Chen, Chang Cheng, Alissa Wahid, and moderator Taiwan Foundation for Democracy Vice President Ketty W. Chen (left to right). Photo Credit: Taiwan Foundation for Democracy

 

Feature photo: 2018 Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award Recipient Gusdurian Network Indonesia National Coordinator Alissa Wahid. Photo Credit: 黃謙賢/Taiwan Foundation for Democracy

TDB Vol. 3 No. 1: A Recap of Post-Election Analyses

Many have attributed the results of the November 2018 municipal elections, in which the ruling Democratic Progressive Party suffered a major setback, to the referenda that were held concurrently with the vote. Evidence, however, suggests otherwise. Alison Hsiao delves into recent research on the subject.

 

With the opposition Nationalist Chinese Party (KMT) bagging 15 of 22 local government mayoral positions in the Nov. 24, 2018, nine-in-one elections — an increase of nine-cities/counties from the November 2014 elections which turned “green land to blue sky,” as local media described the outcome — many have concluded that this was a victory for the pro-China groups in Taiwan. For Taiwanese voters, however, what was at stake in the past elections was much more than that. In short, it was a victory for a party that often has been referred to as “pro-China,” but certainly not a win for the (politically) pro-China ideology.

Han Kuo-yu, a marginalized character in the KMT who achieved nationwide popularity and a high online visibility in the lead-up to the elections — and who against all odds won the mayoral election in Kaohsiung — declared that he would abide by the so-called “1992 consensus” only after his election in order to, in his words, push for cross-Strait trade in Kaohsiung. Han campaigned on the slogan “economy 100% and politics 0%” while vowing to “make big money” for the city. There was a surge of searches on Google for the “1992 consensus” in Kaohsiung after Han’s announcement. Most Taiwanese have no clear idea what the “1992 consensus,” an alleged cross-Strait mutual understanding that has become the basis for cross-Strait interactions since 1992, stands for. The Tsai Ing-wen administration’s refusal to recognize the “1992 consensus” has alienated Beijing, which in retaliation has suspended all official contact with Taipei.

In Taipei and other municipalities, meanwhile, the debate was mainly about municipal affairs.

What swayed voters? A highly discussed issue on social media following the elections was whether a series of referenda, which were held concurrently with the elections, may have influenced voter decisions in their choices of parties and candidates, and if so, in what way.

Referendum effects

It is hard to say with certainty that the referenda resulted in the ruling party’s defeat, as it involves assessing a counterfactual: how voters would have voted absent the referenda. But there is no doubt that the ruling party was on the defensive on each of the referendum battlefields, and issue-framing, as some already demonstrated in the Taiwanese context, can be determining in one’s attitude toward public policies. The failure to take a stand in a debate on public policies would then affect how voters view the ruling party.

 

Voters lining up to cast ballots in the local elections and the referenda on November 24, 2018

A quick review of the outcomes of the 10 referenda questions shows that those who were more aligned (in broad terms) with the ideology of the ruling party — Question No. 13 (name change for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics), Question No. 14 (same-sex marriage) and Question No. 15 (gender education) — were all defeated, while those proposed and endorsed by, or more ideologically aligned with, the opposition party, won big.

Referendum Questions No. 7, 8 and 9 were proposed by the KMT, while No. 16 was endorsed by it. Austin Wang, an assistant professor in the department of political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, found that Questions No. 7, 8, and 9 were unsurprisingly highly correlated with Question No. 16, meaning that in a township, the more people who voted yes on Questions No. 7, 8, and 9, the more did so on Question No. 16 as well.

The fact that the result of the vote on Question No. 13 — proposing a name change from “Chinese Taipei” to “Taiwan” at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics — is, according to Wang’s findings, negatively correlated with results for Questions No. 7, 8, 9, and 16, confirms the earlier statement that party identity played a major role.

Wang didn’t find a positive correlation between the results of the KMT-initiated Questions No. 7-9, and anti-same-sex-marriage proposals No. 10-12. But in the same article, he found that how one voted on Questions No. 13, 14, and 15, and Questions 7-9, 10-12, and 16 can basically determine whether they are more liberal or conservative and whether they are more pro-“green” or pro-“blue.” Moreover, those who voted Yes on Questions No. 10-12 (proposed by anti-same-sex-marriage groups) were found to be in the same (or nearly the same) quadrant as those who voted Yes on Questions No. 7-9 and 16 (graph 4 in Wang’s article).

Analysis by Yang Kuang-shun, a PhD student studying comparative politics at Arizona State University, also stirred up some debate online. Yang’s findings echo Wang’s in that he found that the more voters supported name change (Question No. 13) in a district/township, the less they agreed with Question No. 10 (defining marriage in Civil Code as union between a man and a woman).

No significant correlation was found between support for Question No. 10 and the percentage of vote obtained by candidates from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). However, the support rate for Question No. 10 is negatively correlated with the percentage of vote Tsai Ing-wen received in the 2016 presidential election; in other words, areas that were more supportive of Tsai in 2016 were less so of Question No. 10. But, as Yang observed, the DPP also saw a greater increase in vote percentage in areas that were more supportive of marriage being restricted to between a man and a woman.

Yang argued that the contradictory results showed that while the DPP gained support by supporting same-sex marriage (vaguely) during the 2016 presidential election, it also depends on some strongholds that are more conservative. This is a contradiction the party will have to resolve in future.

The KMT’s gain

Whereas there was no clear advantage in the DPP’s (vague) support for same-sex marriage, there definitely was a gain for the KMT by being (unofficially) anti-same-sex marriage. In their study, sociologists Wang Wei-pang, Jhang Ren-wei, and Chen Mei-hua concurred with Yang in that DPP supporters are not on the same page when it comes to same-sex marriage. However, they also found that there was a significant increase in KMT supporters’ anti-same-sex-marriage tendencies between 2012 and 2015, which solidified and mobilized KMT supporters in the November elections.

Pro-same-sex-marriage groups held a pre-referendum rally on November 18. (Photo credit: Hsiang-wei Wang)

The study shows that age is the major divide in attitudes toward same-sex marriage. Irrespective of party affiliations, in 2015, the majority of those born before 1960 were against same-sex marriage, while among those born after 1980, opposition to same-sex-marriage is no more than 18%.

However, the interesting finding (see graph 6) is that KMT supporters, who were actually less anti-same-sex marriage in every age group in 2012 than their DPP counterparts, became less tolerant in the three-year period, with each age group, except those born after 1980 (which saw a 7% increase), seeing a more than 10-percentage point increase in their anti-same-sex-marriage attitudes in 2015.

While there was no increase in DPP supporters’ anti-same-sex-marriage attitudes between 2012 and 2015, it is worth pointing out that DPP supporters born before 1970 were in 2015 even more anti-gay-marriage than their KMT counterparts, according to the poll, a fact that again corroborates the account that the DPP administration has faced a tough dilemma and apparently did not succeed in convincing its supporters between 2015 and 2018.

Not the referenda

Lin Tzung-hung, an associate research fellow at the Institute of Sociology at Academia Sinica, argued that interests, more specifically reactions to the Tsai administration’s pension reform and factional struggles in the agricultural sector, rather than the referenda, determined the outcome of the November elections.

Comparing votes in 2014 and in 2018, Lin has established that there was a statistically significant increase in the number of votes for the KMT in cities and counties with large numbers of veterans, who, like other retired public servants, were affected by recent changes — necessary but not universally popular — to the pension system (while veterans are only part of the group of “military personnel, civil servants and public-school teachers,” Lin said it is a sufficiently representative sample). In other words, disgruntled retired military personnel, and public servants in general, appear to have used the November election to punish the Tsai administration and mobilized in large numbers to do so.

Likewise, the more agriculture (fishery and husbandry included) workers a city or county has, the greater the increase in KMT support in 2018 compared with 2014.

See also: TDB Vol. 1 No. 9: Pension Reform: A Bitter but Necessary Pill

Local factions have been a perennial topic in the study of Taiwanese politics, and voters from the agriculture sector represent a formidable force. The dispute over the Taipei Agricultural Products Marketing Co and its general manager, Wu Yin-ning, was a sign of how factional politics played out. Han Kuo-yu, the newly elected Kaohsiung mayor, was the corporation’s former general manager whose wife was once a Yunlin County councilor and hails from a political family in Yunlin County that is politically aligned with former Yunlin County commissioner Chang Jung-wei. Chang is the leader of the Yunlin faction. His daughter, Chang Chia-chun, was a KMT lawmaker (2008-2012, 2012-2016) and his sister, Chang Li-shan, is an incumbent KMT lawmaker.

For Lin, what Wang and Yang have found supports his argument that the referenda were not the decisive factors in the November elections. It would therefore be dangerous and misleading to point the finger at the wrong cause, as some conservative DPP politicians who oppose same-sex marriage have done.

Feature photo: courtesy of Central Election Commission

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