It seems that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) cannot go anywhere without encountering flying shoes and protest banners. There have been so many shoe-throwing incidents that they are no longer news.
The shoe-throwers come from all walks of life — students, rights advocates, pan-green and independence supporters, and housewives — and they were motivated by a variety of reasons: from Ma’s role in the recent political strife, to the merciless cases of land expropriation and Ma’s comments depicting cross-strait relations as not being state-to-state or international in nature.
The practice was inspired by an incident in which an Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi threw shoes at then-US president George W. Bush in Baghdad in 2008. It has become an unpredictable and unstoppable wave, prompting Ma’s security to try to intercept shoes with a dove-catching net.
This form of protest began in Taiwan in October last year, when some protesters threw shoes and bags at Ma during a Human Rights Day ceremony. Protesters, particularly university students, continued the salvos and vowed that they would “shadow” the president everywhere he went.
That they did. There have been at least nine separate shoe-throwing incidents since last month. Miaoli County Commissioner Liu Cheng-hung (劉政鴻) was also hit in the head by a shoe thrown by student movement leader Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷) over his unpopular land expropriation policy.
Shoe-throwing has become so popular that protest organizers began collecting old shoes and dubbed their protests “Let the shoes fly,” a reference to the 2009 Chinese movie Let the Bullets Fly.
These incidents, which do not look good on television, were obviously embarrassments for Ma, who said shoe-throwing showed a “lack of democratic manners.”
Ma was perhaps right on one thing. Throwing shoes at someone out of anger, mistreatment or any reason is not polite.
Perhaps the ideas of these unmannerly protestors were not so far from the ideas of al-Zaiki’s or German national Martin Jahnke, who threw shoes at former Chinese premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) in the UK in 2009.
These shoe-throwers felt they lacked other means of making their voices heard. Ma should have felt fortunate that those protesters held shoes in their hands rather than bricks, pistols or dynamite.
The incidents should also make Ma ask himself a number of questions: Why him? Why do people resort to this “uncivilized” — as critics call it — form of protest?
It is because of unpopular policies supported by the president and his insensible remarks. It is because public opinion is not represented in the legislature, where the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) controls the majority.
It because the public are left without any choice except throwing shoes to vent their anger and make their voices heard after exhausting all other options to attract the administration’s attention.
Ma seems to be unfazed by his recent — almost shocking — 9.2 percent approval rating. After rejecting the proposal for a national affairs conference, after ignoring numerous protests outside the Presidential Office Building on Ketagalan Boulevard, the president is still trying to bury his head in the sand and tell people that Taiwan is doing just fine and he will lead them to the promised land, if they just mind their manners and accept his policies.
If that is the case, Ma probably needs to purchase more nets because he is going to see a lot more shoes over the next two years. Or, the time may come when Ma will be nostalgic about only having to dodge old shoes.