Editorial: President cannot hide from protests

Wed, Sep 25, 2013 - Page 8

The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has announced that it will delay its party congress, which was scheduled to take place on in Taipei on Sunday. It is also changing the venue from the National Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall to the Chungshan Building on Yangmingshan. This is an unprecedented decision.

According to KMT Secretary-General Tseng Yung-chuan (曾永權), the reason for the postponement was a suggestion from the police to move the event because a number of social movements and organizations are planning to hold demonstrations against President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) on Sunday.

This change is laden with symbolism. The National Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall is located in the city and easily accessed, which opens it up to protests. As such, it is symbolic of democracy and deregulation. However, the Chungshan Building is a reminder of the Martial Law era. It was where the now defunct National Assembly met and the KMT held its important meetings before Taiwan’s democratization. Access was strictly controlled along the single available road and it was easy to protect. It was off limits to the public until 2005. The symbolism tells us that Ma lacks the confidence to face the public and that he would rather retreat to the dark corners of the past authoritarian era.

The demonstration against Ma is being organized by 43 organizations that have called on protesters to dress in black and to bring old shoes to throw. Because the demonstrations that followed the death of army corporal Hung Chung-chiu (洪仲丘) and the demolition of houses in Dapu Borough (大埔) in Miaoli County’s Jhunan Township (竹南) have drawn tens of thousands of participants, causing a social atmosphere of restiveness and the rise of several new social movements, the KMT is frightened.

Since the president initiated what has been dubbed the “September Strife,” shunning Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) and sending major reverberations throughout Taiwanese politics and society, Ma’s support ratings have fallen to an all-time low of 9.2 percent. Given that he serves both as KMT chairman and president, this low rating is enough to have Ma looking over his shoulder, with support for Wang among KMT representatives attending the congress and dissent among the general public. If he puts one foot wrong it could be disastrous for him personally and for the party and make them a laughing stock both in Taiwan and abroad. Since there was no way to change Ma’s re-election as party chairman, the party had to take emergency steps, changing the location and date of its congress.

However, these emergency steps are just a short-term measure. They give the party a month’s breathing space. The party hopes that the question of Wang’s party membership will be cleared up in the courts, but a majority within the party sympathize with Wang and were not too happy about the clumsy way Ma has handled the affair. There will be a lot of people wanting to get this unhappiness off their chests when the party congress is finally held.

The public has put up with Ma’s governing for five years now. It is unlikely that he is going to turn the situation around in a single month or temper the anger of the civic groups who plan demonstrations. Hiding away on Yangmingshan and sealing off the mountain’s roads is not keeping the protesters at a safe distance at the bottom of the mountain, it is isolating Ma and the party.

As the Chinese expression says: “The monk can run away, but the temple will not run with him.” Ma can change the time and location of this event, but the protestors will follow him like a shadow follows a fugitive and they will get him in the end.