President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) met with his trusted advisers and colleagues at a high-level meeting to discuss how to deal with the former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman Lin I-hsiung (林義雄), currently on hunger strike to protest at the continued construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s Gongliao District (貢寮).
In the meeting, they apparently decided that Lin’s actions were born of his own obstinacy and that the government need not respond.
It should press on with the construction of the plant and after the scheduled safety checks are carried out in June, put the fate of the plant to a referendum, in line with current legislation.
If the move to halt construction fails to reach the required threshold, the situation will have been resolved.
The pro-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) media and political pundits are playing along with this, saying that Lin should not be holding government policy or the rule of law hostage in this way, in the hope that they can alleviate some of the political pressure Lin’s hunger strike is placing on the government.
Ma perhaps thinks that Lin’s friends, family and supporters will be unwilling to see him perish and will not stop the government from force-feeding him if the situation becomes desperate.
This would allow the government to dissipate the present political crisis on the pretext of humanitarian intervention. In doing so it is underestimating Lin’s resolve and this is the greatest insult of all.
When former Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi protested against British colonial rule by staging a hunger strike, the British authorities did not dare force-feed him. Instead, they brought the situation to a resolution by introducing reforms to satisfy Gandhi’s demands.
Prior to the advent of Indian independence, political tensions and violent clashes between Hindus and Muslims made it impossible for the two to exist side-by-side.
Again, Gandhi went on hunger strike, calling on the two sides to cease the violence. Both sides were certain of Gandhi’s resolve to follow the strike through to its final conclusion and reluctant to cause the death of a person they regarded as a sage and a saint, brought a quick end to the fighting. Nobody would have dared force-feed Gandhi, as it would have offended his personal dignity.
In 2002 I made a visit to Northern Ireland, where I saw many walls daubed with pictures of people who had starved themselves to death because of their political convictions.
Everywhere there were telephone poles decorated with fliers marking the 10th anniversary of their deaths. Seven jailed members of the Irish Republican Army died on hunger strikes while in jail. Their unshakeable determination to encourage Northern Ireland to strive for autonomy shocked the world.
In 1989, the fact that Taiwanese publisher and pro-democracy activist Deng Nan-jung (鄭南榕) was prepared to self-immolate to protest his imminent arrest by the KMT authorities galvanized the Taiwanese public into pushing for the right of freedom of expression.
Of the members of the DPP’s former New Tide faction, former National Security Council secretary-general Chiou I-jen (邱義仁) and I were probably the closest to Deng. We were told to go and talk to him, to exhort him to continue living and keep fighting the KMT.