Images of anti-pension reform protesters resorting to violence to try to block lawmakers from entering the Legislative Yuan for a review of pension reform proposals have flooded newspapers and social media platforms since Wednesday.
The general rhetoric on the Internet is overwhelmingly on the side of the pro-reform camp, chiefly President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administration, her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the smaller New Power Party (NPP).
Netizens have created all sorts of memes to ridicule and vent their anger at the opponents of pension reform. In their eyes, protesters are greedy and self-interested retired civil servants, police officers and military veterans who only oppose the government’s reform effort because it may rob them of the luxurious lifestyles that they have become accustomed to.
Young Internet users also created a list of major differences between the anti-pension reform demonstrations and the 2014 Sunflower movement, which the opponents of the reform proposals have used to justify their belligerent protests and perhaps a potential storming of the legislature under the pretext of “civil disobedience.”
The Taipei District Court cited the concept of “civil disobedience” in its acquittal on March 31 of 22 Sunflower movement members indicted for breaking into the Legislative Yuan on the night of March 18, 2014.
The Internet list describes Sunflower members as a group of peaceful young people who occupied the main chamber of the legislature for more than 20 days, while deriding pension reform protesters as a bunch of violent old folks.
However, a small number of Taiwanese see things differently. They believe that anti-reform protesters are also entitled, if they so desire, to break into government compounds under the banner of “civil disobedience” to make their voices heard.
After all, they are protesting against what they see as an illegal or unjust action of major proportion by the government.
In the eyes of retired civil servants, the government’s promises of financial stability and better retirement benefits have prompted them to make certain investments or purchases that they would probably have avoided if they had foreseen the possibility of drastic reforms.
The Tsai administration and most Taiwanese clearly believe that pension reform is the right thing to do and is for the greater good of the nation, so they tend to dismiss the anti-pension reform protests as self-interested, hence unworthy of the lofty title of “civil disobedience.”
However, similar sentiments surrounded the controversial cross-strait service trade agreement signed in 2013, which triggered the Sunflower movement. In the minds of then-president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his supporters, the trade pact was akin to a cure-all for the nation’s economic woes.
That is why Ma remains upset about the Sunflower movement and to this day views its occupation as an illegal activity.
Who gets to decide what cause justifies engaging in “civil disobedience,” and what cause does not?
It would be dangerous if the Tsai administration were perceived to be applying a double standard in its treatment of people protesting different issues, showing leniency only to groups that conform to the DPP’s ideology.
After all, the DPP has to appeal not only to voters who already share its ideas, but also to a sizable group of Taiwanese who identify as nonpartisan or swing voters. These independent voters will scrutinize the DPP government’s every decision to decide if it is worthy of their support.