The "Million Voices Against Corruption" campaign has persisted for more than two weeks and led to violent clashes. However, these clashes did not take place at the campaign's headquarters in Taipei, but in Kaohsiung, Tainan and Pingtung, where the forces supporting President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) are strongest. While the protest rallies down south turned violent, the campaign in Taipei continued to advance peacefully under the banner of "love and nonviolence."
The "peace in the north, disorder in the south" situation seems to indicate that pro-Chen protesters down south have no standards. This further deepens the impression that anti-Chen protesters up north are rational, middle-class people, while protesters down south are lower-middle-class mobs.
There is undoubtedly a geographical polarization between the predominantly pan-blue north and the largely pan-green south. However, it is my opinion that the primary factors behind the violent clashes in the south are the popular mentality of "home-field advantage" and deliberate manipulation by the "reds" (anti-Chen campaign organizers) and pan-greens.
First, let's talk about "home-field advantage." My job requires me to frequently travel back and forth between northern and southern Taiwan. Interestingly, I find that when I am in public places in Taipei, I hear people criticizing Chen, while in southern Taiwan, all I hear is people criticizing former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman Shih Ming-teh (
With the "blue north, green south" political alignment, the anti-Chen demonstrators, most of whom are pan-blue supporters, hold all the cards in northern Taiwan. But crossing the Chuoshui River, the symbolic line separating northern Taiwan from the south, the political situation is reversed, with the majority of people in the south supporting Chen. As a result, Chen's supporters in Taipei only dare to criticize the anti-Chen campaign in private, while in the south, they can express their displeasure out loud with others echoing their sentiments.
On Sept. 16, pro-Chen demonstrators from southern Taiwan planned to occupy Ketagalan Boulevard in an attempt to answer the anti-Chen rally, which had recently vacated the area. However, only a few thousand pro-Chen supporters showed up. Realizing that they were outnumbered, they soon packed up their bags and returned home. In contrast, the red-clad Chen bashers in the south, who might have numbered less than a hundred, were confronted by tens of thousands of local Chen supporters, whose long-suppressed wrath resulted in the situation getting out of hand.
What's worse is that red and green camp leaders made no real effort to avoid these clashes. After the violence in Kaohsiung, the red camp realized that it only took the presence of a few hundred anti-Chen protesters for a confrontation between the two sides to turn violent. With around-the-clock coverage of the clashes by the media, this led further to the impression that pro-Chen protesters are violent, which is an impression the red camp was happy to create.
Furthermore, the clashes created an impression of worsening "riots," forcing Chen to accept offers of mediation from various political figures. By bypassing the two major parties, this process may give rise to a third political force that will be more powerful than either the DPP or the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).