Wed, Apr 29, 2009 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: An exercise in wasting time

For civic groups that long hoped for an overhaul of the Assembly and Parade Act (集會遊行法), the amendment expected to pass soon is disheartening. It fails to resolve the problems with the law that prompted calls for an amendment in the first place.

From President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) perspective, however, it is the fulfillment of one of his campaign promises. The version of the amendment that is likely to pass — possibly this week — was proposed by the Cabinet.

On Monday, Presidential Office Spokesman Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) said Ma hoped to see the amendment expedited. But if Ma expects to win political currency with his critics through this amendment, he is next in line for disappointment.

Expecting the amendment to pass yesterday, the Taiwan Association for Human Rights, the Judicial Reform Foundation and other groups organized a rally outside the legislature. Their message was simple: This version is not what they wanted.

As it turned out, the amendment was postponed and could be put to a vote on Friday. Protesters who had gathered since 8:30am to express their dissatisfaction with the amendment pledged to return.

It was months of intense campaigning by these groups — aided by the concerns of international observers — that necessitated an amendment in the first place. Ignoring the matter is not an option for a government dogged by allegations of undemocratic behavior, ranging from unchecked cross-strait negotiations and suppression of protests during Chinese envoy Chen Yunlin’s (陳雲林) visit last year to meddling in judicial cases and the media. The government has not been able to dispel concerns that human rights and democracy are eroding.

Yet despite repeated promises from the government and legislators, an amendment has been long in coming — and now that it is on the table, it seems sure to be a washout.

The Cabinet’s amendment does not address complaints that the assembly law allows authorities to put limits on or cancel demonstrations and to bar rallies from certain public locations.

The question is who Ma and the legislators that support this amendment think they will appease — the dozens of academics abroad who have expressed concern about developments here; the participants in last year’s Wild Strawberry protests; the Judicial Reform Foundation and other legal experts; or the international organizations that have trained their eyes on Taiwan in the past few months?

None of these believes that the amendment is anything other than show. Surely, the government must know this.

If the amendment passes on Friday, the Cabinet will be more than ready to consider the matter closed, but discontent with the assembly law is not likely to fade.

As the Judicial Reform Foundation said on Monday when inviting the public to yesterday’s rally, it has taken 21 years, two changes of government and countless demonstrations for legislators to reach the point of amending the assembly law.

If the version that passes is pointless, the foundation and others calling for reform will be left wondering how long Taiwan will have to wait for the next chance to appear — and whether that day will produce better results. But despite their disappointment, they are not likely to back down from their position on this fundamental matter.

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