Democracy in Name Only?

Eye On Taiwan
Op Ed
Date: May 21, 2016
By: David Wang

Most outsiders have little choice but to know Taiwan as a “democracy,” one progressive enough to have its first female president that is a feat for any nation, but news in Taipei says that the outgoing president Mah Ying-jeo will be collecting some US$7,690 monthly for the next 8 years (totaling some US$738,460) after handing over his tenure on May 20, 2016.

TV news in Taipei has also reported that Mah has managed to save some US$17 million from his many years as a civil servant, a sum that would have even Barak Obama or any senior American government official rolling his or her eyes in envy.

Tsai Ing-wen, the incoming president and the theoretically perfect presidential candidate with degrees in economics from Cornell and the London School of Economics, was reportedly “unemployed” for some 4 years while collecting US$2,760 monthly in spending money from her family.

Incidentally plenty of college grads in Taiwan whose job descriptions and actual duties often result in hypertension, indigestion, insomnia and cancer, not to mention making Mah and Tsai awe-struck, are paid around US$750 monthly and whose paychecks will see the north side of US$1,500 only when Vladimir Putin quits his post to take up the job as poster boy for the Capitalist Sunbathers Club International.

Meanwhile Taiwanese youths are regularly seen at busy intersections in Taipei trying to collect donations for school children in remote communities who are too poor to afford nutritional lunches, but being mostly given cold shoulders by passersby.

And recent TV news in Taipei says that sending Taiwanese elementary school children to cram schools remains a trend as it has for decades, with the considerable outlay taking a sizable chunk out of budgets of working class families to enable their children to climb the ladder of success as easily as a cerebral palsy patient can win gold in Olympics springboard diving.

While Tsai has, as a seasoned politician is accustomed to, filled the pool of hypocrisy pre-election with her own variety of hyperboles, self-delusions and pie-in-the-sky promises, countless Taiwanese in their prime can only dream of homeownership in Taipei, where per-unit-area prices of new condos easily equal or exceed that in major western cities of Los Angeles, Seattle, Toronto, Houston, Paris, Brighton where wages are double or more of that in Taipei. Such phenomenon may explain the popularity of lottery tickets, underground betting and prevalent criminal behavior by perpetrators on both sides of the law in Taiwan for struggling as honest, ethical working stiff makes about as much practical sense as Kim Kardashian running for president of Pakistan.

Those who prefer to don rose-colored glasses only need to question the likes of the recently caught Taiwanese supplier who had been buying 11-year-old frozen seafood to resell to even 5-star hotels, as well as the endlessly long list of culprits who have resorted to unethical means (as using toxic industrial grade ingredients in food making) to make a fast buck. Morris Chang, CEO of TSMC, was actually audacious enough in recent memory to openly say on TV that there is too much influence-peddling in the Taiwanese financial sector, a practice that is typically associated with Banana Republics where a smug official who happens to fancy the goods that you are trying to legally ship into his or her nation can willfully impose “import duty” by transferring such merchandise into private possession. To the uninitiated, Chang was suggesting that certain well-connected Taiwanese, regardless of political or religious affiliation, can get away with waltzing into a bank and strolling out with millions in depositors’ money by merely flashing collateral that even subprime mortgage packagers or sellers would not touch with a barge pole.

But self-delusion may be a survival technique in the democracy of Taiwan. After all, who would willingly admit to be a citizen of a nation supposedly with a high proportion of college-grads but one that regularly (legally?) allows celebrities to endorse products of which they know nary about. Where such high-profile celebrities don’t likely even know the difference between organic chemistry and organic growth. And what a modern democracy. There are still TV channels in Taiwan that have “encyclopedic” hosts speaking mostly the Min-Nan dialect (Taiwanese) to man call-in lines to answer questions ranging from investment, education, medicine, fortune telling, when actually these snake-oil hustlers don’t know the difference between jet stream and jet-setter, nor Freon and fricassee. Undoubtedly Taiwan is a veritable “democracy” for there are actually callers who dial in to seek answers related to the said issues.

Calling Taiwan a “democracy” to suggest all the conventional positive implications attached is blinkered-vision at best.

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