Amid the recent media uproar and political turmoil after the row between President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) over allegations of improper lobbying against Wang, a street interview with 28 high-school students and other young people showed that about half of them were completely unaware of the power struggle between the two politicians and some even thought Wang was the interior minister.
When asked about issues they considered more important than the political rift, some said whether Typhoon Usagi would affect their barbeque plans during the Mid-Autumn Festival mattered more to them.
One student even said he wanted to see news about former Taipei EasyCard Corp chairman Sean Lien (連勝文) because he thought Lien was dead.
The interview sparked discussions about political apathy among young people. Many ridiculed political parties and media outlets for being too absorbed in the Ma-Wang power struggle, while bemoaning young people’s lack of interest in politics.
However, the lack of knowledge about current political issues among young people, as emphasized in the interview, does not reveal what does matter to them.
The increasing number of young people joining social protests over the past year indicates that they are interested in a range of issues. Even those with no interest in the Ma-Wang struggle have expressed other political concerns by attending protests.
Last month, more than 110,000 people took to the streets in Taipei over the death of 24-year-old army conscript Hung Chung-chiu (洪仲丘). He died 72 hours before his scheduled discharge from the military after strenuous physical activity as punishment for bringing a mobile phone with a camera onto an army base without permission.
The majority of the protesters, mobilized by anonymous online organizers, were young people. Many attended the protest because they had been or were then in the military. Human rights in the military was a relevant issue to them.
Young people’s engagement in political activities can also be seen in the ongoing protests against the government’s forced demolition of four houses in Dapu Borough (大埔) in Miaoli County.
There are almost no political hands in the organization of and participation in the protests at Dapu; most of the events are managed by young people.
The death of Chang Sen-wen (張森文), whose body was found in an irrigation channel on Wednesday, two months after his home was torn down by the Miaoli County Government, sparked more protests against Miaoli County Commissioner Liu Cheng-hung (劉政鴻) and the Ma administration.
These protests, along with rallies in support of the rights of other groups, show that the nation’s young people are not politically apathetic. They show passion for the rights of laborers and minority groups, and for a wide range of social issues. Because they are otherwise detached from politics, it is easier for them to address issues directly and avoid manipulation by the pan-blue and pan-green camps.
As Ma’s support rate plummeted to 9 percent amid his political vendetta against Wang, he should take a look at the video of the interview and see how young people could not care less about the political rift he caused.
While Wang’s alleged illegal lobbying is an important issue that should not be overlooked, Ma’s intention to alienate the faction within the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) led by Wang could not have been more obvious.
He must call an end to the political rift and end the deadlock in the legislature. Economic growth, the employment rate, social justice and other issues are much more relevant. Ma should look at the agendas of regular people and pursue those.