On Monday evening, student representatives of the legislative occupation announced that they were due to evacuate the building yesterday, chanting: “Attack is the best defense” and “Safeguard democracy.” President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), whom the students called a “dictator,” rushed out a statement in an attempt at personal damage control, but no one cared.
By coincidence, both the 1990 Wild Lily Student Movement (野百合學運) and the Sunflower movement began in mid-March, and the students’ announcement came on April 7 — the same date that democracy activist Deng Nan-jung (鄭南榕) burned himself to death in 1989. Both the beginning and the end of the Sunflower movement are closely aligned with important events in the development of the nation’s democracy.
In the past, Taiwanese politics was the preserve of a privileged elite who refused to share it: It was a matter of us and them, the rulers and the ruled. It was only by attaching oneself to the elite that one could share in power, and then only in insignificant and negligible ways.
The political reforms that followed the lifting of martial law, such as the establishment of free elections for all legislators, the abolition of the National Assembly, direct presidential elections and the change in government in 2000, were all great leaps forward for democracy and moved the nation further away from the specter of dictatorship.
However, elections have become overly dependent on two-party representative democracy, which has resulted in widespread public discontent. The ruling party’s tyranny and the opposition parties’ ineptitude have left the public indifferent to politics. The cross-strait service trade agreement — the spark that set off the Sunflower movement — has helped the public to see clearly how the elite on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are conniving to ensnare their general publics, while the opposition are reduced to chanting “Ma Ying-jeou is selling out Taiwan,” unable to come up with a better response because they think the deal can no longer be undone. This is why it has been said that in Taiwanese politics, “you can’t win an election; recall is impossible; a referendum will never pass; and it’s too late for a constitutional interpretation” — this is an apt description of the present state of affairs.
People kept pointing to the problems without offering solutions, and just as diverging and opposing views were being aired, the students stormed the legislature and occupied what the power elite called “the sacred and inviolable legislative chamber.” While there was some frantic criticism, most of the public supported the move. Although the subsequent attempt to occupy the Executive Yuan was criticized, the bloody dispersal consolidated support. After a week, 500,000 people took to the streets thoroughly demolishing the government’s legitimacy.
Various opinion polls show support for the students by the public generally exceeded 50 percent. Traditional interpretations of such protests in Taiwan that point to the blue-green divide or the unification-independence issue, or claim that mass movements always result in violence, have lost much of their validity.
It is not difficult for a clearheaded person to see that the student movement is leading society toward full public participation in government and politics. The students have announced that they will disperse throughout the nation and that they will organize. In the past, we were afraid of, and fed up with, realpolitik. However, politics is a public matter, and rather than letting someone else make all the decisions on our behalf, we should remain optimistic, ambitious and determined and take action by participating together in the construction of a new democracy for Taiwan.