One of the most amusing aspects of democracy in Asia is the brawling that regularly breaks out in its parliaments. Taiwan and South Korea are the worst. A recent story in Foreign Policy captured this; money quote: “a Taiwanese minister proposed that legislators be made to take a breathalyzer test before entering debate.” Hah!!
And here are a few You Tube vids that will make you laugh. Be sure not to miss the Taiwanese legislator who gets a trash can put on his head. Great stuff.
A good question though is why this happens. We all giggle about it when we teach out here, but still it is a good empirical question that no one answers. So after so discussion with my PNU colleagues in public administration and political science, here are three hypotheses. Some enterprising grad students should test them and write this paper.
1. Institutions: Asian legislature are institutionally weak, so who cares what they do?
2. Culture: Confucianism’s strong stress on social harmony means that politics is understood as a one-shot, zero-sum game. Democracy allows losers to come back and play the game another day. Confucian desires to present public harmony mean that losers perceive their defeat to be permanent, hence they fight to the bitter end.
3. Utility: Opposition riots help discredit the government. The Taiwanese Democratic Progressive Party apparently used to stage its brawls as tool to embarrass the Kuomintang.
To Koreans’ credit, when I went to the Korean Political Science Association conference in August 2009, two of the highlight speakers addressed this issue. Korean political science seems genuinely and increasingly concerned the Korean democratization seems to be stagnating. Korean parties do not appear to be maturing into stable, serious alternatives. Nor does Korean political culture seem to be moving beyond parliamentary brawling and corruption as fast as Koreans would like.