Fri, Mar 25, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Send the right message

Tomorrow's "March for Democracy and Peace to Protect Taiwan" in Taipei City was initiated by neither the government nor a political party. It is a public event uniting all of Taiwan's people, regardless of ethnicity, sex, age, place of birth or political affiliation.

DPP Legislator Lin Cho-shui (林濁水) has sought to dissuade President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and Premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) from participating. Lin believes government officials should represent their office, and should not step outside the limits of their official role and join in public protests.

The Taipei Society, long a mouthpiece for Taiwan's democratization, has also discouraged Chen and Hsieh from taking a major role in the march. The society believes their participation would change the nature of the rally and undermine its value as a civilian action.

Chen yesterday announced that he would take his family to the rally, but stressed that he will march as one of the crowd and not make any speeches. The rally, which hopes to attract 1 million participants to express their anger over the "Anti-Secession" Law, will therefore include the families of both the president and premier. But their presence will not make the rally a government-organized event. That they will march in silence and not make any public pronouncements is an indication of Taiwan's restraint. That this is the first time that the president will take part in a rally as a part of the crowd, is a forceful gesture, but one that also reflects restraint.

By not usurping the "unofficial" nature of the rally with his official presence, Chen will calm domestic and international concerns. His role in the rally will serve as a compromise.

Over the last few days the Democracy, Peace and Defend Taiwan Alliance (民主和平護台灣大聯盟), the organizer of the event, has invited senior pan-blue camp figures to participate in the rally, but they have been met with polite refusals.

As the march is in the collective interest of all Taiwanese, it's necessary to show a united front. But the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) instead chose to hold a separate rally last Saturday. Moreover, KMT Deputy Chairman Chiang Pin-kun (江丙坤) will go to China on Monday for talks to pave the way for a visit by KMT Chairman Lien Chan (連戰).

The KMT deserves reproach for putting party interests ahead of the national interest.

Additionally, Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou's (馬英九) refusal to grant permission for the rally -- on security concerns about Ketagalan Boulevard, where the march is to end -- marks yet another political blunder on his part. The Taipei City Government just allowed, last weekend, a march terminating at the very same spot. This is nothing but political game-playing. Even if the scale of this march raises concerns about whether city police can maintain order, Taipei City should simply ask the central government for support.

The international community has responded emphatically to China's enactment of the "Anti-Secession" Law. This gives even more reason for Taiwan to stand up and say "no" to China. Of the options available for Taiwan to respond to China, a protest march is the most direct, but also the one least likely to be perceived as changing the status quo.

The number of participants who join the protest matters. In 2003 Hong Kong, 500,000 people took to the streets to protest legislation based on Article 23 of the territory's Basic Law, shocking Beijing and the international community.

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