Earlier this summer, army corporal Hung Chung-chiu (洪仲丘), an innocent young man, died after alleged neglect and abuse by military personnel. In response, two protests by the furious “white-shirts” (白杉軍) filled the streets of downtown Taipei deep into the night, forcing the government to carry out reform of the military judicial system, transferring military judicial powers in peacetime to civilian courts.
The second of the protests, which took place on Aug. 3 on Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office in Taipei, drew 250,000 people. Some called it this nation’s version of the Jasmine Revolution in North Africa and the Arab world, and it touched the hearts of countless Taiwanese.
However, if we take a closer look at the situation today, the problems that are facing Taiwan have not been fundamentally resolved.
The incompetent and tyrannical administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) still controls the legislative majority, and its response to society’s repeated protests is to act as if they see and hear nothing while they continue their behavior.
Faced with such a head of state, the people of Taiwan should not sit around and wait until his term expires in another three years. However, we cannot launch demonstrations and protests over and over again to deal with a government that repeatedly treats society with disdain. Doing so would would only be a waste of our precious time and energy.
The legitimacy of Ma’s regime is fading quickly. During rallies this month, protesters have called on the public to “tear down the government.” They surrounded and occupied the entrance to the Ministry of the Interior building. It is no longer a question of why we should disestablish the government, it has now become a question of how and when we should do it.
The answer lies in Taiwan’s democratic system. The Constitution endows the public with the right to recall public officials. Article 133 of the Constitution states that “a person elected may be recalled by their constituency.”
A minimum of 2 percent of the total electorate is required for a legitimate proposal to be made to recall a legislator.
The legislators who should have been monitoring the government’s performance on behalf of the people have betrayed our trust by becoming the rubber stamps of the Ma administration — constantly supporting and protecting Ma’s reckless rule. Therefore the public has the right to withdraw the pro-Ma legislators’ authorization and kick them out of the legislature.
It is still possible to correct the arrogant and biased attitudes of the Ma administration, if we are willing to take back the sovereignty of the public by wielding our right of recall. By undermining the pro-Ma lawmakers who serve as his guards, we can turn the legislature into a body that is for the public instead of against it. We can force the government to face public opinion and its demands and we can push for reform.
After having seen 250,000 protesters take to the streets in a demonstration organized by activist group Citizen 1985, it was highly satisfying to see the establishment of the Constitution 133 Alliance, which proposes the recall of specific legislators.
In doing so, it has demonstrated the power of public opinion and demonstration by recognizing and promoting the constitutional ideal that “sovereignty is in the people.”
Lin Chia-fan is an associate professor in the Department of Civic Education and Leadership at National Taiwan Normal University.
Translated by Eddy Chang