For the past few weeks I have been been watching the scenes of the student protest movement unfold on my television, filled with a sense of frustration and helplessness. My frustration comes not only from the unreasonable conduct of the governing party, it is also born of the opposition party’s inability to respond to the situation.
The same party that led Taiwan onto the path of democratic reform now seems hobbled and rudderless. My fear is that, as it stands, it is ill-equipped to deal with the challenges that Taiwan will face in the future.
There are those who, like me, have never been involved in a mass movement before, but feel there are many things that adults, and in particular the opposition, can still do.
For example, the students’ courage and resolve has obliged the governing party to return the cross-strait service trade pact to a clause-by-clause review and to vote on it.
However, as everyone who cares about the pact — thanks to the students — is aware, this gesture by the governing party does not really constitute a genuine compromise. The party enjoys a majority in the legislature, and so the agreement is likely to pass the review unchanged. Unless they conduct a thorough and substantive review of each and every line of the service trade agreement, and do not simply take it to the vote, it will be impossible to root out or amend the clauses that contain the details — where, don’t forget, the devil resides — about which everyone is so concerned.
Hardly any of the political affairs shows on television have addressed the issue of how to proceed with the review, or how to set a bottom line — with, for example, a referendum — before the agreement is put to a show of hands. Neither have they subjected this issue to a clear and comprehensive discussion.
While it would have been welcome for TV shows to discuss the issue, it is absolutely incumbent upon the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) — as the main opposition and the last line of defense in the legislative review — and its legislators to address it. All we saw, however, were DPP figures posted at the Legislative Yuan like so many guardian deities protecting the student protesters. Their show of rudderless solidarity hardly inspired confidence.
With the proposal “legislate first, review later,” the first order of importance is given to national security — regarding potential data breaches involving finance and all that entails; official government data; information regarding engineering at the national level; personal data such as medical records and any other information that exists in the public domain. Clearly, we must implement a rigorous oversight mechanism and maintain our bottom line when it comes to national security. We cannot, as Ma would have us do, first implement a law and then, several years down the line, revisit and revise it.
For these regulations governing oversight for cross-strait agreements, the DPP must not only be clear where it stands, it must also explain its stance to the people of the nation who are concerned about the issue.
The challenge for the DPP now is that the student movement has created an unprecedented amount of room for public discourse. Never before have there been so many people engaged in public debate and rarely before has so much information been passed around, or read, as with this issue.