The students’ 24-day occupation of the chamber of the Legislative Yuan ended peacefully on April 10, but its aftermath and ramifications remain to be examined.
Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) was instrumental in getting the students to leave the chamber, as he took the initiative to cut a deal with them the previous day. He promised the students that a law to empower lawmakers to closely supervise cross-strait agreements would be enacted before the legislature would again review the cross-strait service trade agreement.
In so doing, Wang defied the wishes of President Ma Ying-Jeou (馬英九), who has steadfastly opposed such a concession. However, as legislative speaker, Wang has the prerogative to set the legislative agenda and wield considerable influence in forging consensus among lawmakers of the ruling and opposition parties. Thus, the Ma-Wang political strife that began with Ma’s attempts to purge Wang from the party in September last year remained unabated and become intertwined with the Sunflower movement.
The students’ larger protest, which the media have dubbed the Sunflower movement, in reference to sunlight and transparency, continues and is spreading to grassroots level. As Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷), one of the student leaders, said at a press conference announcing the end of the occupation: “Everything we’ve said and all our energy has allowed this to spread from a student movement to a movement of all the people.”
The students have called for Ma to convene a citizens’ constitutional conference with representatives from all walks of life to institute reforms to enable the public’s full and active participation in major national issues.
The reason for the change is, they argue, that Taiwan’s representative democracy has been impaired and rendered dysfunctional by Ma’s party-state authoritarian regime.
To the disappointment of the students, Ma’s response was not a citizens’ constitutional conference. Instead, he announced a national economic conference in July, to be chaired by Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺), and attended, perhaps, mostly by the nation’s economic and business leaders, who have benefited from Ma’s policy of economic engagement with China.
The students have been angered by Ma’s idiosyncrasy and duplicity in evading and refusing to listen to the students’ appeals. They have come to a painful conclusion that Ma does not listen to the public and behaves like a dictator, and that the public themselves must act to bring about change. Their call for a participatory democracy appears to resonate well with the view of most concerned citizens.
Contrary to Ma’s claim that his pro-China policy and 19 specific agreements to liberalize trade and investment with China would help boost Taiwan’s economy, in reality, Taiwan’s overall economy has fared poorly.
While big businesses have benefited considerably from the opening up of cross-strait economic engagement, these are exceptions, and ordinary people have suffered from the flight of capital and the relocation of production facilities to China, as unemployment has been high, particularly among the young.
There are growing concerns that the cross-strait service trade agreement would badly harm local businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises. Moreover, in addition to the economic woes, many are also worried that the trade pact would have greater adverse political and security implications.