- Posted March 22, 2014 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Protesters occupy Taiwan legislature
Protests Give a Common Voice to Long-Ignored Taiwanese Citizens
As the student protests get set to end yet another day at Taiwan's legislature, there is time to pause and reflect before tomorrow - which promises to see even more people more join the demonstrations - and explain to readers why this grassroots filibuster against rubber stamping contentious trade agreements has been so remarkable. This perspective is being written by a foreigner, for a foreign audience, and hopefully will shed some light on the simmering resentment towards the Ma administration – even within his own political party – which has been waiting to boil over during the last few months.
This is not the first protest against the Ma government, nor will it be the last. Protests and outbursts of anger happen so often that the police were forced to buy nets to stop objects being thrown at the president during public events. People in Taiwan appear increasingly tired of what they see as a government forcing its will upon them without fear of recourse while being mired in scandal and holding suspect interpretations of the legality of their actions. Polls show a staggeringly low support rate for the current administration, but so far nothing has united long-divided groups together towards a common cause.
The similar rally which ultimately proved unsuccessful happened in the blistering heat of the summer when thousands took to the street outside of the president's house to voice their frustrations and grief over unlawfully seized property and broken promises about rights which citizens are supposedly guaranteed by the government. As the blistering sun settled into the dark of night most of us went home to find some relief from the oppressive summer heat, yet a select group stayed on and entered a ministry building and ensured that their voices were heard. Like the current situation that rally occupied a government building, but their sit in was not publicly supported because of its vocal anti-government sentiment and a less realizable list of demands. The average person saw the news and forgot the story by the time they could change the channel on their TV.
Mass rallies appear on the news so often that public gatherings have lost their significance, even those being held in what I refer to as the government campus - a small area of buildings which resembles The Mall in Washington D.C. When I first moved to Taiwan a friend told me that “living in this country is like living in that movie PCU where they protest every day”. It's sadly a running joke how often rallies happen, and how little most people actually care. While I am guilty of ignoring most protests, I have long maintained that if these different groups put political affiliation aside and found a common voice that the government here would be in serious trouble.
It appears that what began as a small group protest has given the masses that missing cause and provided a way to oppose the government without fear of long-term political instability should the protesters succeed. The public is listening to the demands of the growing crowd at the legislature and people discuss them over dinner or coffee alongside rumors that KMT leadership has been strong-arming passage of this agreement with harsh threats of punishment should legislators fail to approve it. With each passing day the students' movement gains legitimacy and the administration is losing theirs.
The lack of genuine public engagement at a factual level of how the agreement will benefit the island has sparked fears that Chinese companies will flood into Taiwan. People envision stiffening competition in an already over saturated market while the largest Taiwanese companies can offshore production and expand their profits by doing business in the mainland. The longer the protests continue, the more wild speculation has become about who is financial and politically supporting the leadership over the deal, leading to scrutiny which could expose information this administration would prefer to keep quiet.
To what extent Taiwan actually stands to gain or lose from this pact seems immaterial because the public is now willing to believe that their government - renowned for its power plays and dubious tactics - has been caught trying to fast-track a sensitive trade deal. The public is right to ask why the government needs to force-feed this agreement to the nation if it is as beneficial to the economy as they claim. The issue has been the top priority of Ma's administration, and suddenly, the public which has increasingly come to resent him has a chance to not only let their voices be heard, but maybe – just maybe – get the government to open this highly significant trade deal to a transparent and meaningful debate.
The public will continue to rally around this demonstration - even those who are principally in favor of the trade deal - because people want a voice in a stable government which treats them fairly, respects their hard work, and doesn't take shortcuts or make closed door deals on critical issues. Many here believe they've lost their say in how the government does things - even those who vote KMT - and now that they've found a voice to safely yet meaningfully speak out against the administration, they will increasingly rally around those inside the legislature.