Sunflower movement vs pension protesters

By Chang Kuo-tsai 張國財  / 

Wed, Mar 07, 2018 - Page 8

On the evening of March 18, 2014, a group of protesters led by Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷), a student at National Tsing Hua University’s department of humanities and social sciences, and Dennis Wei (魏揚), a master’s student at Tsing Hua’s institute of sociology, broke into the Legislative Yuan through its side gate on Jinan Road, while another group, led by Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆), a research student at National Taiwan University’s department of political science, got into the Legislative Yuan by climbing over the wall on the Qingdao E Road side.

This was the spectacular opening scene of the Sunflower movement, which saw student protesters occupying the legislative chamber for almost 23 days.

On Feb. 27 this year, organizations representing retired military personnel and other people opposed to pension reform gathered outside the Legislative Yuan and called on their supporters to break into the compound.

At 5:50am, they got in and several protesters broke some of the glass windows of the legislative assembly building.

Retired colonel Miao Te-sheng (繆德生), secretary-general of Blue Sky ROC Action (藍天行動聯盟), lost his grip while climbing up the side of the legislature’s conference department building and fell down from a considerable height. At the time of writing, he remains in intensive care. (Editor’s Note: Miao died on Monday.)

The main demand of the Sunflower movement was opposition to closed-door negotiations with China over a proposed cross-strait trade in services agreement.

The students who took part in the protest did not do so for their own selfish interests, but for the good of the public.

By contrast, the organizations against pension reform are stubbornly resisting changes to protect their own vested interests, regardless of the critical condition of the pension system, which might soon go bankrupt because it is paying more out than is being paid in.

While the Sunflower movement’s motives for breaking into the legislature were selfless, those of the pension protesters are thoroughly selfish.

What about the public’s perception of the two movements?

In the case of the Sunflower movement, it resonated across society and attracted broad-based support. Even overseas TV networks such as CNN and NHK reported on it.

On March 30, 2014, 500,000 people of all ages occupied Ketagalan Boulevard to show their support for the student protesters.

On the other hand, the organizations opposed to pension reform can only muster the same old familiar faces huddling together for warmth.

Has anyone seen any other social groups or younger people coming out to support them?

How do they think the public will support them when high-ranking opponents of pension reform, such as retired lieutenant general Wu Sz-huai (吳斯懷), take money from Taiwanese taxpayers then go to watch Chinese military parades in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square while singing China’s national anthem?

The Sunflower movement fought a battle that has written an indelible page in the history of the democratic movement.

It succeeded in preventing the opaquely negotiated cross-strait services trade agreement from being signed and it created a butterfly effect that led to the corrupt Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) suffering unprecedented electoral defeats in 2014 and 2016.

It also set the scene for the creation of the New Power Party, now the third-biggest party in the legislature.

By comparison, what impression have the pension reform protesters made on the public?

Chang Kuo-tsai is a retired National Hsinchu University of Education associate professor and a former deputy secretary-general of the Taiwan Association of University Professors.

Translated by Julian Clegg