Reinventing Democracy
  • Audrey Tang, hacktivist, g0v.tw
 

 

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I’m honoured to be here to share a few stories from Taiwan, an island with 23 million people.

Last Friday, May 20, was the first day in office for our new president, Dr. Tsai Ing-Wen. Personally, I’m very happy because I voted for her.

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The main reason I voted for her is that I live with eight cats and two dogs, and she is a fellow animal lover with similar progressive values...

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...marriage equality, cultural diversity, aborigine rights, abolition of capital punishment, and of course animal welfare.

On a personal level, Dr. Tsai is not married or partnered, so the first family is two cats and three dogs. The best thing about this arrangement is that you cannot bribe them. Well, you can — with treats! — but they won’t change Dr. Tsai’s policies for you.

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From the January election until May, the transition of administration power took four months. It was remarkably civilised and free of partisan fights because the outgoing premier — Simon Chang — was a Google engineer with no party affiliation.

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Simon’s main contribution was mandating all data from systems built under 1M euros to be released as open data, raising Taiwan to the #1 spot on the Global Open Data Index. 

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His successor, the current premier, is also independent; they agreed on a transparent transfer of power, with materials from all ministries published online. 

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There are many more non-partisan, policy-first politicians in Taiwan today, including the Taipei City mayor, a medical professor; and the Vice President, a researcher on epidemics.
 

How did we overcome decades of party politics?

It all began in March 2014, when students in the Sunflower movement occupied the Parliament for 22 days.

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At that time, the Taiwan Parliament considered trade agreements with Beijing as a domestic affair, and refused to discuss it like other international agreements — so the occupiers took over Congress halls and demonstrated their own deliberation process.

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Hundreds of g0v (gov-zero) hacktivists built real-time ICT systems for coordinating supplies, live-streaming, transcription, and translation — broadcasting the demonstration to half a million people on the street and millions more online.

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Why are there so many civic hackers in Taiwan volunteering to work on democracy? I think it’s because our generation is the first to speak out freely — free speech was banned for 40 years during martial law under the Chiang Kai-shek dictatorship.

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The year 1988 brought freedom of the press and personal computers.

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The year 1996 brought the first presidential election and the world-wide web. Internet and democracy evolved together, spread together, and integrated with each other.

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So when we write free software — free, as in freedom — we always focus on its social impact; I’m very happy to see la commission numérique in Nuit Debout adopting the tools we worked on during the Sunflower movement.
 

The meme that paralysed the administration

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