The effects of the Sunflower movement continue to be felt even after the protesters have left the legislature. Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) and former premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) both announced on Monday that they will not contest the party’s chairmanship election. In an instant, the heated competition between Su, Hsieh and former DPP chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) turned into an expression of party unity and support for Tsai.
The DPP was unable to direct or manipulate the demonstrations against the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government’s handling of the cross-strait service trade agreement, instead being reduced to providing protection, assistance and logistical support. Although the party’s ideas are close to those of the protesters, that the DPP, Taiwan’s second-largest political party, was unable to join the front lines of the movement and lead, direct or influence protesters and instead had to passively react to their demands and stand behind them has had a great impact on the party.
Su’s announcement that he is dropping out of the chairmanship election shows an understanding of the current political situation and a capacity for reflection that is becoming of a political leader. Facing the challenges of future civic movements, cross-strait relations, the year-end seven-in-one local elections and a generational change is not an easy task, and Tsai will have to shoulder a heavy load.
The protests were aimed at the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), but while the KMT continues to act as if nothing has happened, it is the DPP that has picked itself up.
As the students wrapped up their protest, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) continued his battle with Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) by appealing the Taipei District Court’s decision that Wang could retain his KMT membership, ignoring Wang’s rising popularity after he persuaded the students to evacuate the legislature, while Ma was unable to come up with any kind of response.
Not only is Ma’s popularity in Taiwan in the doldrums, even international media are critical of him. In addition, he is ignoring calls within his own party for party unity and to patch things up with Wang.
Wang promised the students that the agreement will only be reviewed after legislation regulating the oversight of cross-strait agreements has been passed, which resulted in Ma immediately issuing a statement saying that he wanted exactly what Wang wanted. However, the next day he instructed the party’s legislative caucus to continue with the review while an oversight act is being formulated.
Sunflower leader Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷) responded that the activists had not reached a settlement with Ma and KMT caucus whip Lin Hung-chih (林鴻池) tendered his resignation.
Regardless of how loud the protests are and that both domestic and international media see the agreement as dead in the water, Ma remains in his ivory tower, where he dreams about passing the agreement and negotiating an agreement on trade in goods.
Ma is a lame-duck president, and does not face the pressure of future elections. He can ignore the voices of 500,000 protesters and that his party could lose the votes of the younger generation en masse.
Although he is a dinosaur and it might take some time for signals of any kind to reach his brain, other KMT politicians still have to deal with political realities in the wake of the Sunflower movement.
If the KMT is unable to respond to the challenge of dealing with a leader who is out of touch with public opinion and wants to avoid a disaster of titanic proportions, that challenge will spell the end of the KMT as we know it.