Has Taiwan's Worm Fully Turned?

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Friday March 18, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

As the narrative of Taiwan's history develops, much will no doubt be written about this period. Certainly, as president-elect Tsai Ing-wen prepares for her inauguration and a full transition of power to her party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) a new and hopeful fresh spirit pervades.

For unlike when her DPP predecessor, Chen Shui-bian became president, Tsai is to take office having the support of a DPP that now possesses a clear and already installed majority in the Legislative Yuan.

It is the first time such a change of power has happened in Taiwan and it might cause some to declare with a sigh of relief that it has been a long time in coming. Others might examine the numerous instances that contributed to this change.

As a result, when all is said and done, the watchword will be that in Taiwan, the worm has finally turned. However, has it turned far enough?

"The worm has turned." The very phrase carries an enigmatic quality of its own; it is a quality that promotes speculation as to both its full meaning and intent.

Historically one of the earliest references of these words is found in John Heywood's proverbs of 1546: "Tread on a worm and it will turn."

The phrase appears again in Shakespeare's Henry VI Part 3 (1592) and so it has continued to be used even by contemporary writer Agatha Christie.

The present day meaning of "the worm has turned" now indicates a reversal of fortune particularly one, which favors underdogs or where people who had endured a previously bullied state refuse to accept such bullying any longer and they react in opposition. The docile no longer stand by and endure injustice; instead they set about to give some form of pay back. The human spirit reacts to tyranny.

In this regard, some pundits examine in detail and marvel at how Taiwanese were able to resist and overcome both martial law and a one-party state. However, others question, why it took the Taiwanese so long to do so.

Whatever the situation, the signs that the worm has turned are all around. Most recent is the citing of the opposition DPP victories in the November 2014 nine-in-one elections and also in the victory of independent mayoral candidate Ko Wen-je over Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) Sean Lien in traditionally pan-blue Taipei.

These signs continue as people now grow in courage. Today, people do not hesitate to recommend name changes of the schools and institutions named for Chiang Kai-shek and Sun Yat-sen. Such names now bring to mind the oppressive memory of the past.

In regards to Sun and his portrait worship, it is not necessarily a question of his worth in China, but whether he should be considered a founding father of democracy in Taiwan. If schools bear the names of democratic heroes, should they not be names of Taiwanese who long pushed for reform and freedom? Should they not be the names of those who went to prison and shed their blood for Taiwan?

These are all positive signs indicating that the worm has turned. And all can agree that yes, it is a good thing. Despite all this, there still are other signs that the metaphoric worm has not turned far enough.

The confiscation of documents by the Military Security Brigade from a private individual without a proper search warrant brings back memories from the White Terror era.

Vestiges and remnants of the one-party state regime still remain in other circles such as the need for transitional justice and to change laws regarding documents describing criminal actions and names of those involved in the White Terror era, which cannot be opened.

Opening these sealed documents is illegal to allegedly protect the privacy of those mentioned even if they did commit crimes.

There is also the matter of police abuse of power such as putting down the Sunflower movement in 2014; things are not yet at the proper state of a democratic nation with rule of law.

There is a culture of corruption in politics. For example, Tainan, City Council Speaker Lee Chuan-chiao of the KMT was elected after bribing several DPP city councilors for their votes.

A double irony exists here. Those DPP councilors had just been elected by the citizens to represent their party's values and yet they turned around and accepted "bribes from the enemy." Corruption is not limited to any one side.

Looking at the Legislative Yuan, during the vote for the Social Welfare and Environmental Hygiene Committee, DPP Legislator Yang Yao made an "error" and voted for himself. This allowed the minority KMT to gain a disproportionate number of committee convener seats and opened the question of whether Yang had accepted any money under the table.

Returning to the origins of the phrase, the worm has turned in Shakespeare's Henry VI Part 3, some suggest that the worm is reference to a dragon, but what they ignore is the context of the speech.

In that situation Lord Clifford is giving a warning to Henry that once power has been gained and change is underway, the job should be finished. Lord Clifford is warning Henry that if things are not settled and a false leniency is given, matters will return to what they were before. Henry must finish the job.

As Tsai prepares to take over the presidency she will have much on her plate; priority no doubt need be given to the economy and Taiwan's security. However transitional justice has not yet been served and stolen state assets and many other issues are unresolved.

Tsai should seek alliances with groups represented by the New Power Party, the Taiwan Association of University Professors, the Taiwan Association for Human Rights and Judicial Reform Foundation and others. Task forces can be organized to take on these matters. The nation has plenty of researchers who can be assigned to these and other unresolved matters.

The time has come to finish the job. This is not the time to exult in a weak or shallow victory. The worm has turned, but it needs to turn further.