As the political strife between President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) shows no signs of ending and public hostility against the Ma administration grows, fights over permits to hold protests in Taipei are restarting.
Civil groups planning to hold anti-Ma rallies were confronted with a small group of people who lined up 24 hours earlier in front of Taipei City Hall to obtain road permits. These people refused to reveal the dates and venues of their events, but the city’s New Construction Office confirmed that they have obtained road permits for Yangde Boulevard leading to the Chungshan Building on Nov. 1, a possible venue for the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) delayed party congress.
While civil groups condemned the KMT for hiring part-time workers to obtain road permits for popular rally venues to prevent anti-Ma protests, the KMT has maintained a low-key stance and the part-time workers continued to stand in line in front of city hall.
Competition between political parties over road permits to either hold rallies or block rallies has always been fierce when political confrontations escalate. When the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was in power, it also sent members to obtain permits and reserve Ketagalan Boulevard — despite having no plans to hold events — in order to block organizers of a campaign to oust then-president Chen-Shui-bian (陳水扁).
When then-Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) visited Taiwan in 2008 soon after the KMT regained power, the party also tried to obtain a road permit for Zhongshan North Road leading to the Grand Hotel during his stay there to prevent the pan-green camp from securing permits to protest near the hotel.
Amid recent public discontent against Ma, the KMT obtained road permits in front of the KMT headquarters on Bade Road every Wednesday and set up road blocks without holding any events there to prevent protests during the party’s weekly Central Standing Committee meeting.
The tactic of obtaining road permits, but not holding events, with the goal of blocking rallies by opposing groups undermines people’s right to assemble and violates the Constitution, activists from civil groups have said.
It is frustrating that the KMT and the DPP took turns abusing the road permit mechanism, which allocates permits on a first-come, first-served basis. Neither party has made an effort to close loopholes in the city regulations that allow such tactics to continue.
Regulations for road permits require applicants to hand in their forms and supporting documents to the city government eight to 30 days prior to the date of the planned event. While applicants should also obtain a rally permit from the Taipei City Police Department, the police usually grant approval for any applicants with road permits.
The Taipei City Government should adopt measures to make sure that the permits are actually used for rallies or other events. Details of the planned rallies or activities should also be required on the permit application forms.
Without a tighter screening system, regulations on road permits will continue to be abused for political gains and the public and democracy will be the real victims.