Wed, Jul 10, 2013 - Page 8 News List

[ LETTER ]

Time to hear voice of people

From Turkey to Brazil to Bulgaria, people are taking to the streets. While this has been sparked by different reasons, people in these countries all have a common plea: “We all want our governments to FINALLY work for us.”

A government proposal to turn Gezi Park, a rare green space in Istanbul, into shopping malls and luxury condos sparked the rage of the Turkish people; thousands took their protests to Taksim Square. Hiking bus fares while building lavish soccer stadiums upset Brazilians and unleashed their discontent toward governmental waste, corruption and poor public services. Public outrage had brought down the previous Bulgarian administration over high electric bills a few months ago. Now, anger has resurfaced in Bulgaria as the new administration tapped a shadowy media mogul to head the national security service.

Extensive coverage of these protests in the (Western) media ensued. For example, a photograph was published in the Washington Post featuring a Bulgarian protester who is pregnant, sitting quietly by the side of the road, with a protruding tummy and an umbrella beside her. In seeing this photo, I was deeply moved.

All three of these countries are, in a relative sense, democratic; the incumbent government has been elected through a democratic process — general elections. In each case, while sparked by a single incident, the appeal of the protests have all been broadened to call for the overall reformation of the government to truly represent the people. Most importantly, these protests have emerged from different parts of society, including suited business people, laborers, the elderly and families with children. At the same time, the middle class has become an important part of these protests.

These protests are different from that of the Arab Spring or the proletarian revolutions of the more distant past. Some commentators observed that, across the globe, this year is seeing the summer of middle-class discontent.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who, apart from the US, considers Taiwan as his favorite country, said that the common thread among these protests is a strong sense of “theft,” a sense that the people who got elected are stealing something more than money: the people’s voice and right to participate in governance.

This sense of “theft” appears to be pertinent to Taiwanese as well. Ever since the re-election of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), the policies implemented by his administration, such as utility and gas price hikes, nuclear energy, capital gains taxes and pension reforms have, for the most part, been against the will of most Taiwanese.

The upcoming service trade pact with China foreseeably threatens the livelihoods of the nation’s service sectors, such as barbers, hairdressers, masseuses and restaurant owners.

Ma’s Cabinet officials shamelessly deny this. They say Taiwanese small businesses, such as mom-and-pop store owners, should do a better job of embracing Chinese competition, instead of fearing it.

Additionally, the scandalously high amount of government funds spent, for example, on a rock opera, Dreamers, which was only performed twice, and on the Taipei Flora Expo, are like mirror images of the Brazilian government’s lavish spending that sparked public outrage.

Having seen these kinds of protests, I wonder if Taiwanese feel a similar sense of “theft” as people in Turkey, Brazil and Bulgaria.

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