Ko failed at defending his choice of party name 1

When Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) announced that he was to set up a new political entity, which he named the Taiwan People’s Party, the Chiang Wei-shui Cultural Foundation and descendants of Chiang Wei-shui (蔣渭水), who founded a party of the same name in 1927, objected to Ko’s use of the title. Ko responded by saying the name did not belong to Chiang alone, and that Chiang does not only belong to his descendants.

Ko is a professor and a politician, but he should be given a failing grade for his response in both these roles.

If the Taiwan People’s Party is defined as a public good, then of course Ko has some justification for using its name.

However, Chiang and the name are the historical and cultural assets of every Taiwanese. Consequently, their significance is such that they should more properly be defined as common goods.

Regardless of how they are defined, Ko should not use the name for his party and the Ministry of the Interior has a duty to encourage him to change it.

There is no need to dwell on the precise definitions of public and common goods, but the use of public goods must have the characteristics of non-excludability and non-rivalry.

In plain language, other people can use them later or at the same time. If Ko’s party is officially registered in that name after examination by the Ministry of the Interior, will non-members be allowed to engage in political activities under the same title? Of course not.

So the name more closely fits the definition of a common good, in that if one group uses it, others would not be able to. That is why Ko should not be allowed to call his party the Taiwan People’s Party.

Even in the case of a public good, such as a road or the air, it is only permitted to use them in ways that do not have a negative effect on others.

For example, if someone is driving and feels like resting or checking their cellphone, is it OK for them to exercise their right to use public goods by parking in the middle of the road? Of course not, because that would be harmful to other people’s rights.

By the same logic, when using the air, people must do so in accordance with the law, which forbids causing too much pollution.

When Ko wants to use the names of the Taiwan People’s Party and Chiang, he must respect the rights of the foundation and Chiang’s descendants and avoid infringing upon them. Surely Chiang’s relatives cannot be deprived of their right to demand that a politician should not use the name of their family member as a tool to grab political power.

If Ko wants to carry on in Chiang’s spirit, that is all well and good, but there are other, better ways to do it that Chiang’s descendants could support.

An important part of what he stood for was resisting powerful people, but in establishing his party this week, Ko has been rapacious in the way he has taken the name and responded to Chiang’s descendants. This is completely contrary to the spirit of Chiang.

Mayor Ko, do you really feel at ease about acting that way?

Huang Ci-ru is an assistant professor.

Translated by Julian Clegg