New Power Party: Fighting for the Next Generation
Interviewee: Ya-ting Yang (New Power Party, Director of International Affairs)
Interviewer: International Strategy Center
Editor: Yeahwon Kang (The [su:p], editor)
News Update: On May 17, 2019, Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan legalized same-sex unions.
Ya-ting Yang joined the New Power Party in December 2015, ahead of the 2016 elections. Unlike previous third parties in Taiwan, the New Power Party wasn’t born out of a split with another party.. Rather, it was born from Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement and has a strong support base among the youth. While living overseas in Los Angeles, Yang was inspired from afar to join the New Power Party after witnessing the 2014 Sunflower Movement in Taipei. She is currently the New Power Party’s Director of International Affairs. This article is edited from an event between the International Progressive Politics Forum of the Justice Party and the New Power Party held on Apr. 25, 2019.
Could you please talk a bit about democracy in Taiwan after the Sunflower Movement?
I believe that the people of the United States, European countries, and even Korea have been facing similar problems as those of us in Taiwan. You have false information spreading in the news, social media, and mobile messaging apps. Recent research from Switzerland shows that Taiwan is facing the worst false information attacks in the world. This is something that we're still discussing. How do you deal with false information but not infringe on people's freedom of speech? It's a very fine line to distinguish and balance. The 2020 presidential and legislature election will be our test on how to deal with false information while protecting human rights and freedom of speech.
What does false news look like?
A lot of the false news in Taiwan is spread through messenger apps or Facebook. They hold partial truths, but then they add untrue opinions or descriptions. A lot of the misinformation is pro-China. For example, they were saying that if Taiwan unifies with China, people would get their retirement funds on a one to one exchange rate between the Taiwanese dollar and the rmb. Currently, the rmb is four times the Taiwanese dollars. This means that if you received the one to one exchange rate, your retirement fund would increase four-fold. This is one example of false news being spread around.
Korea also has the problem with fake news. What are some ways to fight fake news while also protecting people's freedom of speech?
Our think tank is actually still debating what to do. In 2016, there was a proposal in the US Congress about setting up an information-verifying Center. I remember there was concern about infringing on human rights and freedom of speech. The proposal essentially just died. I think this is something we all have to think about: how do you prevent fake news in order to protect democracy, while simultaneously protecting freedom of speech? We have to train people in distinguishing between truth and lies. It’s not an easy task.
In regards to the presidential elections, what are your thoughts and analysis on Terry Gou, the candidate for the Kuomintang as well as the founder and Chairman of Foxconn? What is the New Power Party’s plan for the presidential election? Will you run your own candidate or support a coalition candidate?
The Kuomintang (KMT) and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) are still in their primaries, so we are waiting to see who the final candidates are. We have criticized Terry Gou on our Facebook page. In the past, he has represented values that don't help develop the younger generation. For example, he would say that democracy doesn’t make a living, that it doesn’t improve GDP. In another instance—it’s a bit gross—while visiting his factory, Gou asked his workers what the color of their urine was. Was it yellow? It's like he is encouraging people to suffer during work and neglect themselves, just to produce more or to work harder and longer. That is not something we can support. We don’t think such values will help future generations develop a better society in Taiwan.
What are the values the New Power Party thinks are important for the next generation?
First, we hope all candidates can describe their vision for Taiwan, especially how they view Taiwan’s relationship with China. We also hope they advocate for just labor rights, support reasonable housing prices, distribute social resources equally, and restore some market order.
Is there a possibility that NPP will run a presidential candidate?
We won't be ready. Essentially, we would support the pro-Taiwan candidate and the candidate who has the same vision as us. As a party that is only four years old, running a presidential candidate is difficult.
You mentioned restoring market order and redistribution. What do these mean?
A very good example would be housing prices. We actually have a very low birth rate in Taiwan. However, new houses and apartments are being built everyday and are sold at ridiculous prices; the younger generation’s salary has not increased as fast as the housing price. Consequently, restoring market order and redistributing social resources evenly has much to do with the salary of young people. When I was in elementary school, my parents would say that a college graduate could make 1,300 US dollars a month. However, when I graduated college, when my friends graduated college, we were actually making only 1,000 US dollars a month. We are going backwards, thanks to policy mistakes and corporations like Terry Gou’s that have been manipulating the market and preventing a healthy growth in salaries.
Are the policy solutions you are looking for like minimum wage and rent control?
We did increase our minimum wage, but it’s not comparable to the rate of inflation. I believe the current president is trying to raise the minimum wage to match inflation. The situation has improved a little, but we need a longer plan to make it economically viable, to make things better.
I read in the newspaper that Taiwan’s current referendum process is very progressive. In fact, some have described it as one of the most progressive. We were curious who the leading actors pushing for this law were and its impact in the democratic process. How have these provisions been used by civil society and the New Power party?
One of the main leaders for the Referendum Act was the People Rule Foundation. Another was a group of volunteers called Taiwan March, who have been organizing rallies and getting people to sign petitions. The People Rule Foundation would mostly go to little towns and villages and educate people on the importance of reforming the referendum. They were the two big players behind the push. Because of their efforts, legislators agreed to reform the referendum process and address its flaws.
So, what has been the impact of such an amazing democratic tool? How has the New Power Party or civil society utilized this 2017 Referendum Act?
So, during the 2018 election, 10 referenda were proposed and voted on. A lot of the requirements for getting a referendum on the ballot were lowered. For example, the total number of people required to sign a petition proposing the bill was lowered. And the number of votes needed to pass the referendum was lowered, as well as the age minimum (from 20 to 18).
What were some of these referenda?
One was about same-sex marriage. Others were about the use of nuclear power and sex education which are both controversial in Taiwan. However, there were also some flaws. Often, people voted without enough information and knowledge about the referenda. The voting process needs to be improved. Last year, in November, we voted until 9 p.m. Some places started counting ballots before other areas had even finished voting. So, those are some administrative improvements that we need. Additionally, the debates between the pros and cons were too short. They were carried out in a week, so we might have had three debates total. However, if you look at Switzerland or the United States, they allow more time for debate. In the United States and Switzerland, there are multiple debates over multiple months. There is a lot we can still learn from these countries that have done referenda for a longer time.
What was the mood among young people and among the general population? Was there a revival of democratic feeling after the Sunflower Movement? What was people's participation in this referendum process like?
After the Sunflower Movement, the young generation was excited and eager to participate in political movements, actions, and even the government system itself. But after last year's referendum, everyone was disappointed. The disappointment came because the referendum process didn’t provide enough information for voters. Essentially, the referenda of the progressive supporters, the younger generation’s, didn't get passed. All of the referenda that were passed were supported by the conservative side. So, that’s why we are pushing for new referendum reforms. Most of them are administrative, but one of them prevents referenda carried out on human rights or international human rights. For example, you can't have a referendum rejecting same sex marriage since, two years ago, Taiwan’s Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to forbid two people of the same sex from getting married. So, referenda that violate human rights won’t be able to considered anymore.
What does internal democracy look like and how do you get members to participate?
Since we are a very young party, a lot of our process happens online. We allow our members to directly vote for board members. We have 15 board members and representatives and they're all voted online by our members. This past weekend, we had our first representative meetings and 49 out of the 55 came. Everyone was active on how they envisioned the party, so I think it was a success for us.
How do we ensure participation? Each of our local chapters has different activities. For example, the chapters in metropolitan areas, such as Taipei, have activities centered on housing prices, labor rights, and how young parents can raise their children in metropolitan areas. But in the suburbs, we might be focusing on activities that teach the older generations how to care for their health or avoid home injuries by, for example, installing handles in the bathroom. So we have to look at our constituency and make sure that the information is useful and interesting enough for them. We will continue to interact with them and help them realize that politics is actually daily life, that it is interesting and not just what you see on TV.
The New Power Party states that Taiwan should be a separate sovereign country. That, if it were, it would provide greater stability to East Asia. Could you elaborate on this? What is the role of international solidarity to the New Power Party? What international solidarity activities does the NPP carry out?
We are a very important democratic country in the region. A big part of this is we all know China’s ambition and power. They are being very aggressive in the region. Taiwan and the Philippines—all the surrounding countries are feeling it. So if we are not strong enough and we don’t cooperate to defend this regional chain of democracy, all of our countries will be at risk. Let me backtrack a little bit: to be a stable country, we have to be independent economically. If we're not independent economically, then it is very difficult to defend our democracy. That’s why the United States, Australia, and all these other Western countries are trying to defend this region. They're trying to protect the freedom of trade within this region. Of course, Korea, Japan, Taiwan—we are all on this island chain. If Taiwan breaks off from it, there'll be a big problem because it gives China a direct gateway to the Pacific. That's why we are cooperating with NGOs from Hong Kong, Tibet, and Taiwan to specifically support and defend Hong Kong and Tibet from China’s expansion and ambition. At present, it's hard for us to even maintain our current status, let alone expand democracy in Asia.
Today and yesterday, nine people were tried in Hong Kong. One of them had her sentencing postponed due to needing surgery. However, the eight others were sentenced to 8 to 16 months for occupying the plaza during Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement. So, we are trying to maintain our stability here in Taiwan: both our status as a sovereign country, as well as our support of other Mandarin-speaking areas in the region.
So now we will open it up to Q&A from the floor.
What is the percentage of people in their 20s and 30s that is supporting the New Power Party and are you satisfied with these support ratings?
Our most recent support rating, among all age groups, is 13 to 15%. However, for those aged 20 to 39, our support ratings are sometimes even at the top. Somewhere around 30-35%. So, we are pretty satisfied. As a young party mostly speaking up for the younger generations, we are glad that people notice our efforts and support us.
To take power as a mass-based party, you also need policies for people in their 50s and 60s. What is your strategy for that?
The NPP support rate for those over 40 is not as optimistic as for those under 40. Sometimes, the interests of the younger generation conflict with those of the older one. For example, we support higher salaries which doesn’t make business owners (many over 40) happy. We support labor rights. We support longer breaks, which business owners also aren’t happy about. We are a very small party, a young party that doesn’t have enough resources to satisfy everyone. So, at the moment, we are focusing on people mostly under 40, the younger generation. But we also care about issues such as long-term care, health care, and household safety, issues not usually associated with younger people. Although these issues may be viewed as connected to the older generations, they are indeed universal.
You refer to yourself as a small party. What is the big dream? What is the biggest goal that the New Power Party has? How do you see yourself in the future? Would you run a president in 10 years? What is your highest ambition as a party?
Right now, we are preparing for the 2020 elections. The political atmosphere is that the general population doesn't trust politics. People are disappointed. There is this primary going on TV with the two majority parties who are fighting to run candidates. People are getting a little bit tired of it. That's the majority of the feeling. So, our goal for 2020 is to be the vital few in the Legislative Yuan. The Legislative Yuan has 113 seats. Right now, we only have five, but what if the two majority parties don’t get a majority? What if we win 15 seats? What if we win 20? Now we could open up a new page in Taiwanese politics where none of the parties are a majority. Then, we could actually sit down and talk about real issues. So I think [winning vital legislative seats] is a very big ambition for this year. If we can achieve that, it would be a very very big step for Taiwanese democracy and for the young generation interested in politics.
- Foxconn is a contract manufacturer for electronic products and is located in Taiwan. In particular, it is famous for manufacturing Apple products such as the iPad and iPhone.
- The more yellow the urine, the longer a worker would have held their urine. Thus, the yellower pee would mean that a worker was holding their urine and thus worked harder.
- Taiwan’s unicameral legislature