The student occupation of the Legislative Yuan could be seen as a death knell for the legislature. However, as the saying goes: “The king is dead, long live the king.” You might also say: “The legislature is dead, long live the legislature.” The students’ purpose is not to kill the legislature. On the contrary, they want to use people power to find a new lease of life for a legislature that has nearly been trampled to death by the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) abuse of its majority. They want to put the legislature back on track and restore its dignity.
The fault lies with President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his disrespect for the sanctity of the legislature. Ma openly instructed the KMT caucus convener to ensure that the cross-strait service trade agreement was approved — by any means necessary. Ma is said to have told the party whip he was personally accountable for the result, which was all that mattered.
Hence, we saw KMT legislators scrapping consultations and contravening legislative procedure in a bid to get the service trade pact approved as a package, so that it could automatically go into effect. The KMT had stripped the legislature of its autonomy, not to mention flown in the face of public opinion. The student occupation is therefore an act taken in defense of democracy, its purpose being to restore to the Legislative Yuan its mandate to legislate.
Is occupying the Legislative Yuan a lawful thing to do? Compared with the lack of respect for the law shown by the KMT, any minor infractions made in an effort to set things right are irrelevant. After all, the students have not done anything violent like setting fire to the Legislative Yuan or beating government officials. On the contrary, they have acted very reasonably.
The occupying students did not appear out of nowhere. It is not easy to take over the legislature in one fell swoop and put Ma’s shoddy performance in the international spotlight, and they would not have been able to do it without the experience gained from wrangling with the Ma government for the past five years.
Last year, students trying to protect people’s homes from demolition shouted: “If you demolish houses in Dapu (大埔) today, we’ll demolish the government tomorrow.” Now the slogan is: “If you pass the service trade agreement today, we’ll demolish the government tomorrow.” The continuity is plain for all to see.
A string of controversies have occurred under Ma’s administration — the cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), the Dapu demolitions, the demolition of the Wang (王) family house in Taipei, the death of army conscript Hung Chung-chiu (洪仲丘) and so on. These controversies and the ensuing protests have strengthened the students’ resolve, built up their strength and cultivated their wisdom. Otherwise, how would just a few hundred students have been able to paralyze the country’s legislative machine?
The students have now seized the strategic high ground. Every move they make is being watched closely not just in Taiwan, but by the international community. If Ma mobilizes the entire national police force, he is likely to make himself a laughingstock, and to no avail. Ma recently made a fool of himself by saying that deer antler velvet — a kind of traditional tonic — was made from the hair of deer ears. He had better get things straight this time. The students began by calling on Ma and KMT representatives to go to the Legislative Yuan in person and respond to the public’s demands. Now they have gone further, calling on Ma to apologize and Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) to resign. There is even talk of extending their actions further. An occupation of the Presidential Office cannot be ruled out — it only depends on how angry people get.
Chin Heng-wei is a political commentator.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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