At least 100,000 protesters yesterday gathered in front of the Presidential Office in Taipei and demanded President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) step down, in the first mass demonstration since Ma was re-elected in January last year, while the leader of the opposition said he had initiated efforts to recall the president.
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the organizer of the “Fury (火大)” rally, estimated that about 200,000 people participated in the protest. Police authorities estimated the number of protesters to be about half that figure.
As overnight rain stopped about noon and the weather was warmer than expected, the protest began on time at 3pm at Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, with participants marching down Renai Road and Zhongxiao E. Road in high spirits toward the assembly point in front of the Presidential Office on Ketagalan Boulevard.
Taipei police said they had dispatched 500 police officers to maintain order along the route of the rally. An additional 300 police officers were deployed around Ma’s residence to prevent a repeat of protests by students and workers outside the residence which took place on Dec. 30 last year.
Prior to the protest, DPP spokesman Lin Chun-hsien (林俊憲) said the party aimed at drawing more than 100,000 participants to the event and had mobilized 50,000 people, about 60 percent of whom were from Taipei, New Taipei City (新北市), Taoyuan County and Yilan County.
Buses that set off from southern Taiwan — the DPP’s traditional stronghold — were also well loaded with participants in high spirits and eager to press their appeals to the government, Lin said.
The protest, which the DPP had been working on for nearly a month, came with three demands for the government: a Cabinet reshuffle, a rejection of the controversial Next Media Group (壹傳媒集團) deal and the organization of a national affairs conference.
DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) said last week that if Ma agreed to the three demands, the DPP would cancel the protest. The Ma administration did not respond and went on to block DPP-led amendments to media acts in the legislature on Friday.
Led by Su, party heavyweights, including former DPP chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) and former premiers Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) and Yu Shyi-kun, as well as DPP six commissioners, attended the protest.
“Incompetent president, the public are furious,” protesters chanted as they held up signs and banners to show their discontent at Ma’s perceived failure in almost every aspect of government, in particular over the economy.
They arrived at the assembly point at 5pm for a nighttime rally.
“I’m very disappointed with the Ma administration. Not only has Ma been unaware of his incompetence and poor performance, he has refused to listen to the public’s voice,” a farmer, surnamed Liu, from Changhua County said.
The crowd chanted “reject the deal” when they passed the National Communications Commission (NCC) building on Renai Road, demanding that the commission, which regulates broadcasting media, veto the Next Media deal.
People’s disappointment with the government seemed to extend beyond its economic performance and media regulation, with many indicating discontent with the entire Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) administration, both central and local governments.
Various advocacy groups attended the protest and highlighted their own causes, such as closing nuclear power plants, stopping illegal land expropriation and supporting press freedom in China. Some demonstrators, including several foreign residents in Taiwan, also held banners to protest what they said was Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin’s (郝龍斌) inappropriate handling of night market regulations.