Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen recently announced that the country would issue a law to allow for a “revenge recall” of politicians who have been found guilty of corruption. The move has sparked debate on whether Taiwan is overstepping its boundaries in terms of democracy, with some arguing it will undermine the people’s freedom.
Taiwan’s Presidential Election is a hotly contested topic in Taiwan. The “Taiwan recall election” is a debate that has been going on for some time now, and the outcome of this election could change the political landscape of Taiwan.
TAIPEI—When Freddy Lim, the vocalist of a Taiwanese heavy metal band, was elected to his first term as a legislator in 2016, he made headlines, suggesting to some young people on the island democracy that a new political age was on the horizon. The 45-year-old is now up for recall.
Mr. Lim isn’t alone: he’s the sixth elected official in Taiwan to face a recall campaign in the last year. If he were to lose his seat on Sunday, he would become the next victim of what some Taiwanese refer to as a “revenge recall” trend.
The run of recalls is fuelling a discussion over whether Taiwan—widely considered as a bastion of democracy against China—is too democratic for its own good, thanks to a love for popular referendums that opponents blame for squandering political resources.
One of the earlier recalls, sparked by a change in the legislation, succeeded in removing a pro-China politician from the mayorship of Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s southern port city, in June 2020. However, many of the most recent targets have been younger politicians renowned for their anti-China stances.
“With Taiwan experiencing so much reform and change in recent years, the younger generation of legislators has been the easiest target,” Mr. Lim added.
In December of last year, Freddy Lim spoke at an event in advance of the vote.
Walid Berrazeg/Zuma Press photo
Taiwan has long been renowned for its raucous politics, in which legislators have been known to ignore speech and beat one other with fists or, in the instance of a battle over permitting pig imports from the United States, bundles of decaying animal intestines. However, according to Lin Jia-he, an associate law professor at Taiwan’s National Chengchi University, the perpetual state of political mobilization has produced a dangerous environment in which “elections never finish.”
The island’s ruling Democratic People’s Party and the opposition Nationalist Party, also known as Kuomintang or KMT, spent months campaigning ahead of a vote in December on issues such as a potential ban on American pork imports, the relocation of a liquefied natural gas terminal, and the restart of a nuclear power plant that had been shut down. Only little more than 40% of eligible voters cast votes in the poll.
According to Lev Nachman, a postdoctoral scholar at the Harvard Fairbank Center for China Studies, “there are more important concerns that Taiwanese officials should ideally be focusing their time on,” including Chinese infiltration and Taiwan’s readiness for a hypothetical Chinese invasion.
Less than half of Taiwan’s eligible voters cast votes in the referendum in December 2021.
ANNABELLE CHIH/REUTERS/ANNABELLE CHIH/REUTERS/ANNABELLE CHIH/REUTERS
Some political scientists have drawn comparisons between Taiwan’s recalls and the state of California, where an attempt to oust Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom last year sparked debate over whether there is such a thing as too much direct democracy.
While Mr. Newsom finally won the statewide election, others in Taiwan have not been so fortunate.
Former lawmaker Chen Po-wei, a strident proponent of Taiwanese independence who had won an unexpected win in the 2020 parliamentary election with more than 112,000 votes, was defeated in a carefully watched recall vote in which 78,000 people voted to have him removed. In an interview, Mr. Chen said, “We neither breached the law nor betrayed the nation.”
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According to political commentators, there is no proof that Beijing, which considers Taiwan to be a part of China and has threatened to seize control of the island by force if necessary, is interfering with the recall process directly. Analysts believe that if the gears of Taiwanese politics get clogged, particularly with recalls of pro-independence MPs, China would profit.
In October, KMT Chairman Eric Chu emphasized this dynamic when he chastised Mr. Lim for opposing Mr. Chen’s recall.
Mr. Chu went on to predict Mr. Lim’s own recall vote, saying, “Don’t fight against China every time you speak.” “These kind of politicians and elected people will undoubtedly be removed from office.”
The recalls, according to Nationalist Party spokesperson Alfred Lin, “embody the rising democratic awareness of the Taiwanese people,” rather than being influenced by China. Taiwan Affairs Office in Beijing did not reply to calls for comment.
China has been a vocal opponent of Taiwanese democracy. In December, Ma Xiaoguang, a spokesman for Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office, slammed Taiwan’s ruling party for seeking independence under the guise of democracy, saying, “What kind of democracy is that, suppressing dissidents on the island, manipulating ethnic animosity, and dividing Taiwanese society?”
The importance of direct democracy in Taiwanese politics can be traced back to Sun Yat-sen, China’s first republican president, who praised recalls and referendums, which were uncommon in Western countries at the time, as “solutions to transforming China into the world’s most advanced country” in a 1924 speech.
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After his successor, Chiang Kai-shek, fell to Mao Zedong’s Communist Party in China’s civil war in the late 1940s, Mr. Sun’s Nationalist Party fled to Taiwan, bringing with it the Republic of China’s constitution, which was mainly based on Mr. Sun’s vision.
Following the Sunflower Movement, a student-led movement in 2014 that effectively blocked down an unpopular trade treaty with China, recalls took on new significance in Taiwan. Following their failure to recall many KMT MPs, supporters of the campaign moved to decrease the recall threshold.
After President Tsai Ing-wen won her first election and her independence-leaning DPP secured parliamentary majority, the endeavor was successful two years later. Lawmakers passed an amendment that reduced the amount of signatures needed to go forward with a recall vote from 13 percent to 10% of voters. They also cut the bar for assenting ballots in a legal vote in half, from 50% to 25% of registered voters in the district.
In June 2020, Han Kuo-yu, who was at the microphone, was recalled.
Associated Press photo
The highest-ranking elected official to be recalled after the legislation was modified was Han Kuo-yu, the pro-China mayor who was dismissed in 2020. Mr. Han’s fans retaliated by rallying around Huang Jie, a 28-year-old municipal councilor who was known to clash with Mr. Han during sessions.
Mr. Han’s followers, according to Ms. Huang, who survived her recall election in February, “wanted to do the same to target those whom they regard as political opponents.” Ms. Huang described it as “essentially a mobilization of hate.”
Ms. Huang and Mr. Lim, in an ironic twist, were among those who campaigned to make recalls simpler.
“It’s like a boomerang.” “You don’t get to decide how it’ll be utilized,” Joshua Spivak, author of “Recall Elections: From Alexander Hamilton to Gavin Newsom,” stated.
Mr. Lim refused to comment on the appropriateness of Taiwan’s recall laws, but said he isn’t shocked by the recall campaign, citing criticism of his long hair and tattoos when he first ran for office.
Mr. Lim, who has regularly blended politics with music as a performer, said, “Ever since I began in politics, there have been all-out assaults on me as a rock band’s lead singer.” Mr. Lim is the main vocalist of Chthonic, a heavy metal band.
Mr. Lim took aim at the International Olympic Committee regulations, which obliged Taiwanese athletes to participate in the Olympics under the made-up flag of “Chinese Taipei,” during a 2012 concert in London. The singer’s onstage rage, in which he repeatedly said the term “Chinese f—ing Taipei,” was recently included in a section on Taiwan on comedian John Oliver’s program “Last Week Tonight.”
In 2019, Freddy Lim, the main vocalist of the heavy metal band Chthonic, performed in Tokyo.
Nicolas Datiche/Zuma Press/Zuma Press/Zuma Press/Zuma Press/Zuma Press
Mr. Lim’s vulgarity is one of the grounds for his recall, according to Chung Siao-ping, a former KMT municipal councilor who is organizing the recall movement.
“You can’t ‘f—’ Taipei simply because you favor Taiwan independence,” Mr. Chung said, criticizing Mr. Lim for failing to pay enough attention to his area, which was the epicenter of a local Covid-19 epidemic in May.
Mr. Lim expressed his hope that the recalls would come to an end with him. Analysts cautioned, however, that unless the recall procedures were changed, the tendency would certainly continue.
Mr. Lin of National Chengchi University believes that no one will be able to halt the recalls. “To oppose recalls in Taiwan is to oppose democracy.”
Joyu Wang can be reached at [email protected]
Corrections & Amplifications Chung Siao-ping is a former member of the KMT and is re-applying for his membership. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said he is a current member of the KMT. (Corrected on Jan. 7)
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“Revenge Recalls” is a Taiwanese movie that has sparked debate in Taiwan. The film depicts the political climate of Taiwan during the period of martial law, and how this affected people’s lives. Reference: chen po-wei.
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