The government is eager to pass its version of an amendment to the Assembly and Parade Act (集會遊行法) so it can exert stricter control over protests that take place during the fourth cross-strait negotiations to be held in Taiwan later this year, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) said yesterday.
DPP youth director Chao Tien-lin (趙天麟) yesterday urged the government to drop its efforts to push through the amendment that would allow police to suspend a rally or change the route of a protest march if authorities deemed it a threat to national security, social order or the public interest.
The DPP has long criticized the government’s version of the assembly law, which in the party’s view would take Taiwan back to the era of Martial Law, turning the country into a police state.
“We suspect the reason President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is so eager to pass the act is because during the upcoming fourth cross-strait negotiations, Taiwan and Beijing will sign an economic cooperation framework agreement [ECFA] despite strong objection from all sides,” DPP spokesman Cheng Wen-tsang (鄭文燦) told a press conference yesterday, adding that Ma planned to use the act to silence the public.
The party also said it would not be intimidated away from its plan to hold a round-the-clock sit-in in front of the Presidential Office next weekend.
On Wednesday, DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) announced via teleconference from Washington that the party would stage a 24-hour sit-in protest following its rally on May 17.
Chao said all party leaders were required to report to the sit-in area by 5pm after the march and that so far, public support has been overwhelming from all around the country.
DPP caucus whip Lee Chun-yee (李俊毅) said the purpose of the rally and the sit-in was to test if Ma still held the same “tolerant” attitude he had shown as mayor of Taipei during the “red shirt” protests against former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) in 2006.
Lee quoted Ma as saying the police were unable to evict the red shirt protestors because they outnumbered the police.
“If we do not receive the same treatment as the red shirt army, then it would be sufficient to say that Ma has had a complete change of heart now that he is the president,” Lee said.
DPP Legislator Wong Chin-chu (翁金珠) said the protest would proceed peacefully and any deviation would be because of provocation by police and the government.
“Since the DPP is constantly outvoted by the KMT in the legislature, the best place for the party to speak up for the people is on the streets,” she said.
The DPP said Tsai would hold an international press conference on the eve of the rally to explain the purpose of the demonstration and the people’s anger against the government.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus secretary-general Yang Chiung-ying (楊瓊瓔) yesterday criticized Tsai’s announcement, saying the DPP’s plan to stay overnight on Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office would inconvenience commuters the next morning.
Yang said that Chen was the puppet master behind the rally. She did not present evidence to back her claim.
KMT Legislator Chang Hsien-yao (張顯耀) said although the opposition enjoyed the right to protest, organizers of the rally should abide by the law.
“The DPP should peacefully express its opinions on May 17 and avoid conflict and violence because this would deal a blow to the image of our democracy,” he said.
When asked for comment, Executive Yuan spokesman Su Jun-pin (蘇俊賓) said the government respected the people’s right to freely express their opinions, but added that the public should be aware of the possible consequences of the demonstration for the country.
“There were 190,000 Chinese tourists traveling to Taiwan between January and April, bringing in NT$11.6 billion [US$350 million] in tourism revenue. This hard-earned result should be cherished,” Su said.
Su called on the DPP lawmakers to engage in rational talks with the KMT on their disagreements over the amendment to the Assembly and Parade Act instead of taking to the streets.
At a separate setting yesterday, Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) promised to respect people’s right to protest and said he would handle the rally using a “soft approach.”
Hau said the DPP had acquired a permit to use Ketagalan Boulevard on May 17, but the KMT had a permit for the next day. He urged the DPP to negotiate with the KMT for the right to use the road.
“We will respect the sit-in as long as the DPP communicates with the KMT and gets the permit for May 18,” he said.
Hau declined to say whether police would disperse the crowd if protesters refused to leave on May 18, but said the city government was concerned about the rally’s impact on traffic if it continued through the next day, which will be a Monday.
Also yesterday, the legislature’s Procedure Committee, which holds its weekly meetings on Tuesday, was forced to hold an extra session after DPP legislators paralyzed the meeting on Tuesday to stop inclusion on today’s agenda of the Cabinet-proposed amendment to the Assembly and Parade Act.
The pan-blue-dominated committee agreed yesterday not to discuss the amendment today.
The amendment’s exclusion is expected to prevent the DPP from blocking today’s plenary session because the party had threatened to boycott future plenary sessions if the KMT included the proposed amendment on the agenda.
KMT Legislator Lai Shyh-bao (賴士葆), convener of the Procedure Committee, said lawmakers across party lines reached a consensus to put aside controversial proposals after legislators decided to extend goodwill to each other as the result of a cross-party negotiation session held by Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, when commenting on rumors that Ma would again vie for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairmanship, the DPP said the position would be more important than his capacity as president of the country in facilitating meetings with Chinese officials.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHIH HSIU-CHUAN AND FLORA WANG
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