Sun, Nov 16, 2008 - Page 8 News List

A movement away from the political orthodoxy

By Jack Wu 吳振嘉

The visit of Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) and the events surrounding it have brought a fundamental change in Taiwan’s political scene.

It goes beyond the advance in cross-strait peace claimed by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government and its pan-blue allies, and beyond the pan-green opposition’s accusations that the government is leaning too close to China. What we are seeing now is a new line of thinking on freedom — or the lack of it.

Over the past decade, political parties have focused on the issue of national identity — on whether Taiwan should be independent or united with China. But the pro-unification pan-blue camp and the pro-independence pan-green camp have been unable to convince one another of the merits of their positions.

Although Taiwan has had several democratic elections, politicians still mobilize and motivate supporters through manipulation and the demonizing of opponents. This has created an almost unbridgeable rift. Agitation and negative campaigning has led to the public losing confidence in politics and politicians in general. With the blue and green camps mired in mutual accusations of selling out Taiwan and corruption, there is no room for the neutral voter or new elector.

The ARATS visit brought this situation to the fore once again. With the blue and green camps attacking each other’s positions, clashes broke out between agitated crowds and security forces. Politicians of both camps sought the limelight by putting on performances, while biased media outlets distorted their reporting to fit political standpoints.

Chen sought to gain whatever benefits he could from Taiwan’s political rift. However, just as his visit was drawing to a close, and with bloody clashes around the Grand Hotel reaching a climax, a new social force was quietly taking shape.

A group of students and academics linked up via the Internet to launch a silent vigil, one quite different in form and purpose from the noisy mobilizations of the blue and green parties.

Their goals are very simple: Criticize police for acting outside their authority and infringing on freedom of speech in the name of security; demand that the government admit to and apologize for its errors; and call for amendments to the Assembly and Parade Law (集會遊行法) where the law conflicts with freedom of expression.

The students are straightforward, sincere and deserve to be taken seriously. These are people who originally gave politics the cold shoulder and who are sick and tired of the endless war of words between pro-unification and pro-independence forces. During the overextension of police authority during Chen’s visit, the students saw the ugly face of the abuse of government power. They saw how the police were selective in approving applications for assembly, how they banned the display of the Republic of China flag in specified areas, how they gratuitously marched into a record shop and ordered the management to stop playing certain music.

To the protesters, all of these actions exceeded the boundaries of law enforcement.

The protesters’ agenda indicates that a new generation has appeared with its own way of thinking. The axis of political debate in Taiwan may gradually move away from the struggle between unification and independence forces, which the younger generation finds meaningless, toward a fight for deeper democracy and civil liberties.

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