The students have vacated the Legislative Yuan and headed back to class to wide acclaim for having taken the government to task for its apparent bungled handling of the cross-strait service trade agreement. This is the time not only for clean-up, but for sobering societal self-reflection.
As a foreign observer, I have a few questions. Forgive me if the answers have been clearly stated already.
First, does Taiwan, like other democracies, put the rule of law first? Were not President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawfully elected to run the country? Did they not, by legal authority, create and present the agreement for fair discussion? Notwithstanding any perception of trickery or deception, did they actually break any laws by passing the agreement onto the next phase after 30 seconds?
If indeed they broke no laws, or could not be constrained by existing laws, then this process followed the rule of law, no matter how disagreeable or unseemly this may be to a number of citizens.
The passage of the pact, no matter how objectionable, displeasing, or unwise its contents, needs to be respected, followed and only challenged by an equal application of the law and legal procedure (assuming we still view the rule of law as paramount) — which may include a judicial review or waiting until the next election and voting out the ruling party, amending or repealing the offending agreement and putting in the appropriate procedural safeguards so that this does not happen again.
On the contrary, as laudable as the Sunflower movement was in its earnest pursuit of justice and transparency, did the occupation of the Legislative Yuan not violate the rule of law? By not lawfully evicting the protesters from the Legislative Yuan, and instead caving in to their demands under pressure from an unlawful act, did Ma and the KMT not also seriously undermine the rule of law?
If laws are disrespected willy-nilly, do not we then return to the law of the jungle where personal feelings, fears and sentiment dominate? Would the students not have learned a better lesson about democracy and the rule of law had they understood that Taiwanese need to take responsibility for those they elect and the consequences of voting in a leadership that may take the country in a different direction (lawfully) than they might want?
Rather than point the finger at corrupt or devious politicians, should the citizenry of any society not take responsibility for safeguarding the rule of law and democracy by having their elected constituents carefully craft the appropriate laws and procedures?
I wonder in this regard whether the Sunflower movement, despite its pleasing and inspiring aspects, was too much too late and instead of creating a new way forward, has taken respect for the Taiwanese democratic system and the rule of law in a backward direction.
I take no political stance on this matter, but invite the academics and experts among your readership to help educate me and others by considering these questions.
Wugu, New Taipei City
At times during my nearly two decades in Taiwan, I have despaired for the state of democracy. None of the three democratically elected presidents have been true friends of democracy.
Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) engaged in gangsterism, vote-buying and general election fraud. Former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) is imprisoned for embezzlement. Worse, he enacted laws to hobble the Legislative Yuan’s power, the institution meant to directly represent the people’s voice. President Ma has tried to govern as a warlord, with Taiwan as his fiefdom. In his effort to deal with China from a position of parity, dictator to dictator, he has ridden roughshod over Taiwan’s embryonic democratic institutions.