The Sunflower movement, and the occupation of the legislature, has been going on now for almost three weeks. The students and the government are locked in a game of chicken, with all the makings of a crash from which no one will remain unscathed.
On Sunday, Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) entered the fray and the Legislative Yuan to talk to the students, offering them a way out at the 11th hour. In response to their demand that a new law governing legislative oversight of cross-strait agreements first be put in place and then the service trade agreement reviewed, Wang assured them he would not continue cross-party talks on the agreement until legislative oversight regulations had been finalized.
That Wang, as legislative speaker, has — in this moment of national crisis and at a time when the government is prevaricating woefully — returned to the Legislative Yuan and played such a decisive role is worthy of his position and has won the approval of the nation, whatever the students or the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) may think of his actions.
For too long now the legislature, under the iron grip of the KMT, with its large majority, has been unable to operate as it should, as an autonomous national congress. Wang has chosen to disregard President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and the KMT’s plan of proceeding with the oversight legislation and the review in parallel, deciding instead to respond to the students’ demands independently, with the authority which is vested in him by his official position.
The KMT wasn’t best pleased.
Wang’s situation is complicated. The courts have recently frustrated his own party’s attempts to have him stripped of his KMT membership. He is both affiliated with the KMT and unaffiliated. Neither the party whip nor the looming legislative elections hold any fear for him, which cannot be said for the KMT legislators that accompanied him to meet the students.
As soon as the subsequent press conference was over, their thoughts turned to the crack of the party whip and they scrambled to distance themselves from Wang. However big names in the party like Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌), New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫) and Greater Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強) all came out in support of Wang, which represents yet another major challenge to Ma’s leadership.
Ma is under considerable pressure because of his inability to either placate or engage with the students and he cannot send in the police to expel the protesters. He has been relying on the methods of the National Security Council Secretary-General King Pu-tsung (金溥聰), who is employing propaganda and scare-mongering in an attempt to whittle away the students’ strength and resolve. Neither Ma nor King had counted on Wang’s move, which has scuppered these tactics and disconcertingly thrust Ma from center stage.
Those sympathetic to the students’ cause, in academia, the media or politicians of all affiliations, are now calling on the protesters to withdraw in response to the olive branch Wang has extended. Their demands for legislation first, then review, have been met for the most part. They would be withdrawing in glory. Constitutional government cannot be won overnight, but the student movement has highlighted the flaws in the system and the seeds for constitutional reform have been sown. All that remains is to wait for them to sprout.