Government undermines promotion of democracy

The Taiwan Foundation for Democracy (台灣民主基金會; TFD) is in the news for all the wrong reasons. There are concerns that direct intervention by the Presidential Office in the TFD’s affairs are undermining its work to promote democracy and human rights.

TFD was established in 2003 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and is modelled on the US National Endowment for Democracy. Although it receives much of its funding from the government it operates with a high degree of autonomy. The TFD is probably most well known for its annual Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award. The foundation has numerous programs to promote democracy in Asia through education, research and cooperation with NGOs. In January 2009 the TFD hosted the release of Freedom House’s annual report in Taipei.

Last week the Taiwan News reported that former KMT lawmaker Huang Te-fu was appointed to replace Lin Wen-cheng as the chief executive of the TFD. The change was pushed through by Su Chi, chief of the National Security Council and a key adviser to President Ma. This was contrary to ordinary practice where MOFA would submit a list to the Chairman of the TFD, Wang Jin-pyng who is the Speaker of the Legislative Yuan.

It is significant that this happened in the same week that President Ma announced his intention to become KMT Chairman. Wang is one of Ma’s key rivals in the KMT and this move sends a strong signal to Wang that Ma is in charge.

The Taipei Times had a story on the issue on its front page yesterday. The article cites a United Daily News (聯合報) article saying that Ma was not happy with the TFD providing financial support to Chinese democracy activists, Tibetan independence organizations and Cuban democracy activists. In the United Daily News article also included allegations by a government official that the TFD had asked Freedom House to criticise the KMT government. It shows the extraordinary sensitivity of the government to criticism as Freedom House’s annual report contained only mild criticism of Taiwan and didn’t downgrade its ranking.

The Taipei Times interviewed a TFD board member, who did not wish to be named, raising more concerns about government interference.

The board member said that while the TFD is supposed to operate independently despite receiving government funding, officials in Ma’s administration often intervene.

“For example, when we were organizing an event to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, we were told which speakers to invite and which to not invite,” the board member said. “Our democracy is deteriorating.”

The Taiwan News have an editorial on the TFD today. The editorial argues that the attacks on the TFD are about pleasing China.

Ma and his acolytes clearly intend to muzzle Taiwan’s voice for democracy in order to curry favor with the PRC, whose CCP leaders are undoubtedly displeased with virtually all of the TDF’s activities.

This matter raises further questions about the Ma government’s commitment to safeguarding democracy and human rights in Taiwan. Despite the signing of two UN rights covenants which were recently submitted to the UN, other evidence seems to suggest that human rights are under attack in Taiwan. If the government really wants to avoid criticism from Freedom House it needs to demonstrate this through positive actions, not by intimidating its critics.

6 thoughts on “Government undermines promotion of democracy

  1. Thanks David!

    This was one of the two topics I was writing on yesterday, but I didn’t finish it.

    Looks like I don’t need to finish it anymore. I will take a closer look and see if I have anything to add, but not today.

  2. Pingback: Govt ‘taking the democracy out’ of Taiwan Foundation for Democracy?

  3. Nothing connected to the government can be expected to operate “independently”. Now, why is the government giving money to this “Global Go To Think Tank” to support “democracy” ?

  4. Joe, There are plenty of examples in other countries of organisations that receive most of their funding from the government, but operate independently. Public broadcasters such as the ABC in Australia are a good example of this. While it can be expected that governments might appoint people to the board for ideological reasons these very direct manipulations of the TFD are not in line with the principles of democracy. What the KMT government is currently doing to PTS is a repeat of the same pattern. The work the TFD does is quite important in improving Taiwan’s connections with global civil society. As Taiwan is excluded from the UN these kind of activities are vital to developing Taiwan’s international image and giving it more international space.

  5. Su Chi is a total scumbag. I’ve seen some of his correspondence; he’s so full of himself. He’s driving all the Machiavellian underhanded stuff in the Ma administration, including pushing him to take back the party chair. It breaks his own promise, but he wants to use this as an excuse to negotiate with China without the title of President.

    The tentacles of the government are all over the place these days–from removing Taiwan from government publications and replacing it with ROC to tons of government sponsored cross-strait cultural activities/exchanges…

    Ma had an idiotic economic plan and was reprehensible enough from his past actions opposing democratization for me to strongly oppose him on those grounds, but that he actually is trying to push a unification agenda and in an underhanded, undemocratic way… damn… even the most pessimistic estimates of Ma are becoming true.

    There are local elections at the end of this year, but then no more until 2012. With legislative elections and the presidential election so far off, Ma can afford to continue avoid public opinion until elections come up, and he appears to tack back towards the center again.

    Without any political levers to pull, can civic society, perhaps in conjunction with international organizations, new media, push back against this minority agenda? Can there be a viable DPP strategy, perhaps with additional events like Chen Chu’s visit to China–high profile, highly rational, but firm statements on the DPP position?

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