Fri, Sep 07, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Protests aided Taiwan’s democracy

By Jerome Keating

Taiwan is no stranger to protests. From the Kaohsiung Incident on up to the present, protests have occurred with increasing frequency and over an increasing variety of issues. More recent protests include issues like the red shirts against corruption under former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), China’s “Anti-Secession” Law, the import of US beef and even dissatisfaction following President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) first term in office. However, with any social movement or protest, questions naturally arise on how to evaluate their success and effectiveness as well as how crucial they were to a nation’s development.

This past Saturday’s protest against the Want Want China Times Group’s attempts to create a media monopoly, while smaller than previous protests, nevertheless ranks high in importance because of its link to democracy. A true democracy cannot function if one corporation controls the media. However, whether this protest was successful still awaits the National Communications Commission’s decision on Want Want’s purchase. If it approves, what will happen next?

With this in mind, it is good look back and to examine three definitive protests that have shaped Taiwan’s democracy. In what ways can their success be measured and what was their price?

Taiwan’s pivotal protest was the Kaohsiung Incident on Dec. 10, 1979. There was clear preparation and even clearer goals. The set flashpoint or hook was a Human Rights Day celebration emphasizing the abuses of human rights and lack of democracy under martial law.

The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government set a trap for the participants. It created a fake riot, which would justify a subsequent harsh crackdown. There were no negotiations. Hundreds were jailed and key leaders were put on public trial and given harsh prison sentences. Was the protest successful? The White Terror and Martial Law era continued for another seven years, along with high profile murders of innocent citizens, but the attention gained through international exposure helped mobilize and energize more Taiwanese as well as generate international pressure. How could a political party that allegedly espoused democracy justify its continued one-party state? Eventually a reluctant KMT allowed a two-party system and lifted martial law in 1987 and the nation moved closer to being a true democracy.

Another pivotal protest came with the Wild Lily movement in March 1990. This was a clearly organized protest with specific goals and sit-in. The flashpoint/hook was the upcoming presidential election where there was only one party and one candidate — former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝). The goals were clear; it was time for Taiwan to become a full democracy. The government again knew the protest was coming, but with a multi-party system already in place any type of suppression was out of the question. As more than 300,000 people joined the students, Lee proved up to the task. On the day after his election, he met with 50 student leaders. Success can be measured as to how those demands were met. Within two years, Lee retired the iron rice bowl legislators of 1947; the people would elect future legislators.

The Taiwan Garrison Command was also disbanded, and the blacklist ended, allowing dissidents to return. Finally in 1996, the people would elect Taiwan’s president. Taiwan had taken another giant step in developing itself as a democratic nation.

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