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Opposition in Taiwan Welcomes Openness, Urges Political Reform

August 22, 1987|DAVID HOLLEY | Times Staff Writer

TAIPEI, Taiwan — The rally began peacefully enough, with speeches on human rights and songs of the "We Shall Overcome" variety. But soon riot policemen waded into the crowd and declared the demonstration illegal because organizers had not obtained a permit. Tear gas canisters were fired, the demonstration turned into a riot, and hundreds of police officers and demonstrators alike were injured.

Huang Hsin-chieh, a legislator and publisher of the opposition magazine that sponsored the rally to mark International Human Rights Day, was arrested four days later and convicted by a military tribunal of sedition and plotting the violent overthrow of the Taiwan government.

That was nearly eight years ago. Now Huang, who was released from prison May 30 after serving 7 1/2 years, says the political situation here has changed dramatically. "There is much more freedom of speech," he said in a recent interview. "Before, we couldn't say much. Now there are many things we can say."

Sharp differences remain between Taiwan's ruling Nationalist Party, which has tightly controlled the island's political life since the Nationalists fled the Chinese mainland in 1949, and the opposition. But some common political ground has emerged in recent months, together with a new openness marked most dramatically by the lifting of martial law in July.

The easing of political controls "hasn't clearly affected most people's lives, but it has made the entire society more lively," said Li Sheng-feng, a Nationalist Party legislator. "The political atmosphere has changed so that there are no taboos. We can talk and think about anything."

Both sides say that the next step is reform of the political system, in which power rests with parliamentary bodies composed mostly of elderly men who were last elected in the 1940s, when the Nationalists ruled all of China from the city of Nanjing. Many represent provinces on the mainland that they have not seen in nearly four decades.

Ma Ying-chiu, deputy secretary general of the Nationalist Party, said that changes are inevitable because of the advanced age of most members of the National Assembly, which elects the president, and the Legislative Yuan, which writes laws.

"They're getting old, and some are very old," Ma said. "We cannot really avoid the question of mortality. So Parliament must be reinvigorated. The question is how."

Although the party has not made any specific proposal, officials have indicated that some seats will still represent China's mainland provinces.

Mainland Delegates Issue

"The mainland representation issue will always be there," said Shao Yu-ming, director general of the Government Information Office. "The question is, what is the number?"

The opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which was formed last September in defiance of a martial-law ban on new parties, is pressing for elections that would enable people elected in Taiwan to control their government for the first time. To press this demand, DPP leaders have adopted various versions of the Boston Tea Party slogan, "No taxation without representation."

"If you don't pay taxes, you don't have the right to choose your representatives," said Chiang Peng-chien, the DPP chairman, arguing that assemblymen and legislators elected on the mainland should be required to give up their seats.

"This," Chiang said, "is the most basic unequal feature of Taiwan's politics--the Nationalist Party, without needing to elect new members, can control Parliament. The most important work before us now is to take urgent action to push for national elections. We want to change this political structure so that it is fair to the Nationalists, fair to the DPP, fair to everyone, so that a party can become the ruling party through elections.

A Time for Pressure

"Now is a turning point. Taiwan is entering a new age. But if we are passive and wait for the Nationalist Party to change things, nothing will happen. We need to put enough pressure on the Nationalist Party to change this system."

Nationalist leaders insist that their party--and especially President Chiang Ching-kuo--should receive credit for the growing openness of political life and the lifting of martial law, which had been in effect since 1949.

"The opposition would like to have people believe it is their agitation that forced the government to reform," said Wei Yung, chairman of the Research, Development and Evaluation Commission of the Executive Yuan. "That is not true."

President Chiang, 77, son of the late Chiang Kai-shek, "is the major force guiding us toward the current reform," Wei said. "He has been more forward-thinking than many people in the government and the party."

Taiwan's political structure is unique because the island is ruled under a constitution designed for governing all China, of which Taiwan is just one province. While the Nationalists and Communists have innumerable differences, on this point they agree.

Still Claims All of China

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