Branding the student-led protesters’ occupation of the legislature “illegal,” President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday urged the activists to end their sit-in, while calling for a legislative review of the cross-strait services trade pact that sparked the protest to be conducted as soon as possible.
At an international news conference in the Presidential Office Building, Ma urged the protesters who have been occupying the chamber of the Legislative Yuan in Taipei since Tuesday last week to leave so legislative operations can resume.
This was the first time the president has spoken publicly about the “Occupy Taiwan Legislature Movement.”
Stressing that the services trade pact is crucial to economic development, Ma said he hoped lawmakers across party lines would reach a consensus on reviewing the agreement clause-by-clause soon.
“I tell you once again, with a responsible attitude, that this is completely for the sake of Taiwan’s economic future,” said Ma, who has presided over the signing of a series of trade and economic agreements with China since he first assumed the presidency in 2008.
Ma, who is also Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman, expressed hope that the legislative review of the agreement would be completed soon, adding that the KMT and opposition parties have agreed to inspect the pact clause-by-clause.
Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) is seeking a consensus between the warring sides, but a key sticking point preventing the pact’s smooth review is the KMT’s insistence that the procedure be carried out in plenary sessions and the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) refusal to do so.
The DPP has scheduled a joint session of eight legislative committees to review the agreement today.
The protest movement was sparked by a chaotic joint committee session on Monday last week presided over by KMT Legislator Chang Ching-chung (張慶忠), who is coconvener of the legislature’s Internal Administration Committee.
At the meeting, Chang grabbed a microphone to announce the beginning of the session and then said that the pact — which he termed “an executive order” — had passed its review and would be sent to the legislative floor for consideration.
Chang then adjourned the meeting, catching opposition lawmakers by surprise.
The KMT lawmaker’s move was followed by a rally that evolved into the storming of the legislature and subsequent occupation of its main chamber the next day.
Since then, the movement has gathered momentum, with thousands staging a peaceful sit-in outside the Legislative Yuan complex to support those locked inside.
Student protesters broke into the building because they were dissatisfied with the legislative procedure, but their “illegal” action has paralyzed the legislature for five days, which has seriously affected the operation of the executive and legislative branches, Ma said.
“Let us calm down and think carefully. Is this the democracy we want? Do we have to do things in this way? Risking the rule of law?” he asked. “As the president of the Republic of China, I have to insist on maintaining the rule of law while safeguarding democracy. This is the fundamental and unswerving position of the government.”
Ma also flatly rejected the protesters’ demand that the trade pact be withdrawn from the legislature.
“Even the opposition parties did not ask for a withdrawal of the pact, they just want an article-by-article review of it,” he said.
The president said the KMT’s caucus supports the opposition’s proposal on reviewing the pact and “they should work together in this way to solve the matter.”
Asked if he will talk to the student protesters face-to-face as they are asking, Ma said he was afraid it would be “meaningless,” citing Premier Jiang Yi-huah’s (江宜樺) attempt to talk to the activists on Saturday, which failed to yield any progress after Jiang refused to meet the protesters’ preconditions for dialogue.
Ma also denied that his government has been under pressure from China to push the pact through the legislature as quickly as possible.