When looking at the student movement, we must first look at Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) and his response. He tried to bring off a softer populist stance in response to the demand that the service trade agreement be rejected and that a law regulating oversight of cross-strait agreements be drawn up. Unfortunately no one bought that. Next, he tried to confuse people, claiming that there are already four levels of oversight in place in an attempt to render establishing new legislation unnecessary. However, one has to wonder if the opaque handling of the pact and the occupation of the legislative chamber are not sufficient evidence that these supervisory mechanisms are ineffective. Jiang has made it clear that the Cabinet is not going to withdraw the agreement: The decision is final, leaving no room for discussion.
Since Jiang is working on the premise that the agreement will be ratified and that there will be no legislation, why bother showing up at the legislature? Did he want to create the impression that there had been dialogue and establish the conditions for a later evacuation? After leaving hastily, Jiang held a press conference at the Executive Yuan, criticizing the students and asking if a meeting attached with preconditions constituted dialogue.
This raises the question of why the students and members of the public were protesting at all: Was it not because President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Jiang had set — the unconstitutional — precondition that the legislature was not allowed to change a single character in the agreement and had to pass it in toto? Just who is removing every possibility of dialogue?
Ma followed Jiang into the spotlight, with a 30-minute press conference reiterating the same slogan: “Believe me when I tell you that the service trade agreement really can save Taiwan.” However, the protests started because of lack of confidence in this kind of minority decision. Is a president who confuses deer antlers with the hair on their ears capable of grasping what “category CPC 513” in the pact means? Did he really know what type 1 and type 2 telecommunications business were when he guaranteed that “opening up type i and type ii telecommunications business will not endanger national security”?
“The student occupation of the legislature is illegal. Is this the kind of democracy we want?” Ma said. If that is the case, then the counter-proposition must be: “Ma is illegally pushing the legislature around. Is that the kind of democracy we want?” Who was it that gave the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus whip an ultimatum: “If the service trade agreement isn’t passed, you’re the one I’ll come looking for.” As proven through controversies surrounding US beef imports and the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s Gongliao District (貢寮) the view that party discipline overrides public opinion has banned democracy from the legislature. Ma and Jiang are calling on students to leave in order to allow a return to normal operations, but their kind of “normal” means that party discipline will continue to force the legislature to function as a rubber stamp.
As to Chang Ching-chung’s (張慶忠) actions, Ma equivocated. Chang was basically talking to himself in a corner of the committee room for 30 seconds when he declared that the review of the agreement was taking too long. The Cabinet immediately approved it and the KMT’s legislative caucus endorsed it. This disdain for the legislature and trampling on democracy was the fuse that set off the occupation. How can there be any talk of legislative autonomy?
Mysteriously, Ma has said that it will be up to the judiciary to decide whether the occupation was illegal. Has the process to settle accounts already begun?
Lin Yu-hsiung is a professor in the College of Law at National Taiwan University.
Translated by Perry Svensson