If President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) had the slightest amount of democratic common sense, he would have decided to hold the 19th Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) national congress at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall as scheduled. Throwing shoes at the president is a normal state of affairs in a democracy — the thing that is not normal in this whole affair is Ma’s evasive actions, which are but a reflection of his fears. Taiwan is being led by a president who fears the public, and it is surprising that his government has not failed yet.
Democratic movements of the past have all dealt with their governments’ violations of the law and their abuse of power. Only a government can threaten a constitutional democracy and nibble away at democratic values. Big business will on occasion also harm democracy, but that will only happen when companies collude and work hand-in-glove with a government. It is in the nature of democratic movements to take aim at their governments.
This is why the liberal thinker Thomas Paine said around the time of the founding of the US that “government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil.”
We can build a democratic society, but even the best democratic government will still be a potential threat to that democracy. One example of this is Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺), a self-proclaimed liberal, who has turned into an outrageous authoritarian who does not even pale in comparison with Ma after he became premier.
Democracy has become a fundamental value of Taiwanese society. The government must be trained to understand this lest it become an uncontrollable monster. We have to change many concepts if we are to stop democracy from regressing. A democratic society without a government is the ideal, but also an unattainable dream, and that is the reason Paine talked about government as a necessary evil.
Think about it: If Ma were willing to listen to public opinion — even if he were only pretending — would the public chase him to the ends of the Earth to throw shoes at him? Even worse, does he really have the right to close off the streets of Wuci District (梧棲) in Greater Taichung, where the KMT is now slated to hold its national congress, and keep people at a distance? Let us take a disinterested look at the demands of social movements: They are opposed to neoliberal economic policy and they want to guarantee the public’s economic, residency and elderly care rights.
Is this wrong? Who has given Ma the right to treat these people as a mob? What right does he have to send thousands of police — paid for by taxpayers — to suppress the voice of public opinion just because he does not care to listen to it? How can he use the judiciary as a tool for bringing people who throw shoes to court? We must let Ma and his government know that if we are not allowed to throw shoes anymore, we will let them know what we think at the ballot box.
Allen Houng is a professor at National Yang-Ming University’s Institute of Philosophy of Mind and Cognition.
Translated by Perry Svensson