Identifying the nature of political protests

By Chang Kuo-tsai 張國財  / 

Mon, Feb 18, 2013 - Page 8

Street demonstrations can be divided into four types depending on the participants’ status, role, motivation and demands.

The first type is one that challenges the establishment and public policy. During the Martial Law era, there was the Kaohsiung Incident on Human Rights Day in 1979, as well as the first anti-nuclear demonstration and protests against the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and newspaper bans.

After martial law was lifted in 1987, there were demonstrations calling for free and full elections to the legislature, an end to military interference in politics, the abolishment of Article 100 of the Criminal Code — which allowed for people suspected of plotting to overthrow the KMT regime to be charged with sedition — and for a referendum on the nation’s UN bid. There was also a march against nuclear power.

These demonstrations and the recent anti-media monopolization campaign, have called for deconstruction of the old system and the establishment of new public policies and discourses. The participants in these demonstrations were not directly affected and they did not participate to further their own private interests. They took to the streets to voice their demands on behalf of the general public.

Despite acting for reasons of conscience, they were beaten and abused by police, and politicians accused them of creating ethnic confrontations, traffic jams and wasting social resources. Some even criticized them for being “impolite” in order to blur the focus of their demonstrations.

The second type of protest is held by disadvantaged groups seeking help. With their lives and the environment under threat, local residents have protested against chemical pollution in Hsinchu City, the fifth naphtha cracker in Houjin (後勁) in Greater Kaohsiung’s Nanzih District (楠梓) and Dupont’s investment project in Lugang Township (鹿港), Changhua County.

Farmers have also taken to the streets to protect their livelyhoods, while the homeless have demonstrated for housing rights and workers have protested for an increase in the minimum wage. These groups have demonstrated for their survival.

The third type of protest is against political infighting. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was built on social movements, but it has distanced itself from social groups after becoming a major party.

At the moment, the DPP is in the midst of it’s “fury” (火大) campaign against the government. Although this is a legitimate cause, it is also an attempt by to gain political resources and energy.

The 2006 anti-corruption Red-shirt Movement against then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was an embarrassment. The administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is performing worse than the Chen administration. Where are the red-shirts now?

The fourth type of protest is aimed at protecting vested interests. In recent years, many private companies have dismissed employees, reduced salaries or forced employees to take unpaid leave. These employees have rarely staged a protest. Employees of state-owned enterprises that suffer financial losses are not dismissed and their salaries are not cut because of the monopolies their companies hold. However, they still took to the streets recently to protest against the cancellation of their year-end bonuses.

Participants in demonstrations arranged by civil organizations need to take care of transportation and food and drink themselves, which they are not used to. Rarely are donations given by private individuals, and if organizers pay participants it diminishes the legitimacy of the event.

Chang Kuo-tsai is a former deputy secretary-general of the Taiwan Association of University Professors.

Translated by Eddy Chang