Mon, Sep 18, 2006 - Page 3 News List

Analysis: In crowd estimate game, political pressures loom

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

Two chirdren yesterday try to entertain themselves at the Million Voices Against Corruption demonstration at Taipei Railway Station by reding comic books and playing hand-held video games.

PHOTO: CHEN TSE-MING, TAIPEI TIMES

Political pressures were likely behind the Taipei City Government's change of heart in publicizing an estimate of the size of the crowds that attended Saturday's pro-President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) rally on Ketagalan Boulevard, a political observer said.

"The city police are under a tremendous amount of pressure whether they make public the number or not," said Wang Kung-yi (王崑義), an associate professor at Tamkang University's Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies.

However, once they decide not to offer a figure, they should not change their position, he said.

He said that pressure could have come from both the Taiwan Society, which orchestrated the pro-Chen rally, and the anti-Chen group led by former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman Shih Ming-teh (施明德).

Taipei police authorities originally refused to reveal an estimate of the number of people who attended Sat-urday's rally on the boulevard, saying that there was always a large discrepancy between crowd figures estimated by event organizers and those estimated by authorities.

However, they changed their mind later Saturday night and announced that about 55,000 people had turned up. The rally organizers put the number at more than 200,000.

Wang said that turnout was important in demonstrations orga-nized by private groups such as the Taiwan Society or Shih's group.

"Privately organized demonstrations are unlike rallies organized on the eve of elections, where candidates know the result the following day," he said. "For private organizers, the number of participants signifies power."

There is often a wide disparity between estimates given by event organizers and city police.

On Friday night, when Shih's camp staged a "siege" march from in front of the Presidential Office to the Taipei Railway Station, the organizers estimated that more than 1 million people turned up, but police had a much lower estimate of 320,000 to 360,000.

Earlier on Sept. 9, the day when the around-the-clock anti-Chen sit-in began, the organizer claimed that the turnout was 300,000, but city police put the number at around 100,000.

The next day, despite the fact that there were visibly smaller crowds than on Saturday, the organizers of the anti-Chen protest claimed that even more people showed up than on the first day of the sit-in.

They said that 500,000 protesters had shown up, while city police estimated the crowd at 10,000 people.

Lin Ming-hua (林明華), director of the city police's Public Relations Department, said that they stopped giving out estimates of crowd sizes or marches two years ago when a march organized by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the People First Party was staged in front of the Presidential Office.

The demonstration was orchestrated to demand the "truth" about the election-eve assassination attempt, which many pan-blue supporters believe was staged by Chen despite any solid evidence to back up their theories.

Lin said that the city police originally refused to publicize the number of participants in Satur-day's rally on Ketagalan Boulevard, but they were told by the police chief at around 10:45pm to make it public.

Lin said that the official numbers were reliable because they were calculated using a formula.

Taking Friday's "siege" march as an example, Lin said that police estimated 40,000 people could fill 1km of the road that protesters walked down. As the march stretched more than 5.5km, the police estimated that about 220,000 people were on the street. On top of that number, city authorities figured that about 140,000 more were scattered along Ketagalan Boulevard and elsewhere, making the total number 360,000.

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