Sun, Aug 27, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: When does a protest go too far?

The assault by former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmaker Lin Cheng-chieh (林正杰) on Contemporary Monthly editor Chin Heng-wei (金恆煒) on a talk show on Thursday night exemplifies the antagonism and irrationality brewing among supporters and opponents of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

The incident heightens concerns over whether next month's anti-Chen sit-in led by former DPP chairman Shih Ming-teh (施明德) will provoke violence on the streets of Taipei. It also reflects rather poorly on the Taipei City Government's decision to allow the rally to continue for several weeks at least.

DPP supporters plan to travel to the sit-in to oppose the anti-Chen protesters. The already frosty feelings between the two camps have deteriorated as a result of weeks of renewed mud-slinging. There is, as always, the potential for things to get out of control.

Shih and his followers have a perfect right to express their opinion on these matters. But why does a 24-hour sit-in need to last weeks instead of a few days? Shih has said that the purpose of his rally is not just to make a point. Rather, it is to achieve a specific result that he and his supporters feel is necessary -- Chen's resignation.

This issue is therefore about a lot more than protecting the freedom of speech of Shih and his supporters. The question begs itself: What makes Shih and his supporters so special that much of a capital city's government district should come to a standstill for so long and the spirit of the Constitution be trampled on to entertain his and their demands?

No matter how one justifies the sit-in in ideological or administrative terms, this action at the end of the day is a form of political coercion, not a phase of spirited debate. What happens when Chen does not resign? Will Shih pack up his things and go home, or will he continue to use mass mobilization to encourage the ignoring of democratic processes?

It is the duty of city officials to approve and reject the nature and time of a rally. In this case, has Taipei City adequately weighed up all of these factors to reach a balanced decision that protects freedom of speech and the interests of the city and the nation?

This is an open question, and it is disturbing that the correctness of the decision depends so much on events that are yet to take place.

As Taipei mayor and open supporter of the protest, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) will be directly responsible if the situation degenerates. And if it does degenerate, Taiwan will be treated to a key preview of administrative incompetence by a man who would be president that will unnerve anyone who values cross-strait stability.

So many of us seem to refuse to compromise on matters in a manner that we demand of others. This is especially the case with those who trumpet their self-righteousness to the public.

And those who dare to disagree are not just expressing a dissenting opinion; they are absolutely wrong and become objects of hatred and resentment.

The prevalence of this attitude indicates a lack of maturity within and the volatile nature of this nation's democracy. The rivalry between different groups in this country feeds off this extremism, and this is cause for concern for those who hope that a more stable common ground can be built up for the benefit of all citizens.

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