The bid to hastily amend the Assembly and Parade Law (集會遊行法), a relic of the post-Martial Law era that places restrictions on people’s right to protest, floundered in the legislature on Wednesday after the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) suggested waiting for the Cabinet to put forward its own amendment.
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus immediately accused the KMT of trying to delay the process and the session descended into partisan bickering.
It is no secret that whenever a party comes to power, it suddenly becomes deaf to calls to amend or scrap this archaic law, as having a statute on the books that can be used to limit protests is extremely useful for any ruling party. DPP lawmakers should not be feigning disgust, as their KMT counterparts are only doing what the DPP did during its eight years in power.
The people with real cause for grievance at the delay will be the “Wild Strawberry Movement,” whose resolve to continue their two-week-long sit-in will be sorely tested as the weather turns colder and the pressure from their parents increases. The strawberries, a student movement formed in response to what they termed the “heavy-handed” policing of protests against Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) earlier this month and which is dedicated to pushing for an amendment of the law, are now getting first-hand realpolitik experience. After a promising start that included visits from a Cabinet member during the first few days of their protest, it may be dawning on the students that they will need to stay put for much longer if they are to achieve any of their demands.
The government, as evidenced by Premier Liu Chao-shiuan’s (劉兆玄) slip during a recent TV interview, is hoping the students will quietly disappear as it becomes clear their numerous demands will not be met.
KMT lawmakers’ filibustering may also be an attempt to rescue President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) from a sticky situation, because although amending the law was one of his pre-election campaign promises, he cannot be seen to be bowing to any of the students’ demands, especially since they have demanded he apologize and that his national security and police chiefs step down.
The best course of action for Ma and his government would therefore be to wait until the student sit-in has come to an end and then swiftly move to scrap the clause that requires organizers to apply for prior permission to protest.
Such a clause has no place in a democratic society.
KMT lawmakers’ argument for “chaos theory,” the idea that allowing protesters the right to march at will would lead to anarchy, just doesn’t pass muster when one considers the nature of most protests in Taiwan.
The size of most rallies and the fact they are organized by political parties weeks in advance gives the police ample time to prepare.
While it is certain that once the law is changed there would be an initial spike in the number of small, single issue protests by special interest groups, these unplanned efforts would not attract people in any great numbers and would not last long.
Ma, for once, should keep his campaign promise and amend the law. After all, as we saw during Chen’s visit, it’s not as if the police can’t handle a few rowdy protesters.