Last week Taiwan students occupied their legislature in protest over the ruling party's undemocratic railroading of a trade pact with China through a committee. The pact, deeply unpopular, is a follow-on to the previous ECFA pact which is not seen as a success by the public. Yesterday another group of students occupied the Executive offices before being evicted by police using water cannons and violence. The government made the usual claims that the protesters were being violent, refuted by the copious video and on-the-scene reporting by literally hundreds of people. Come below the curlicue and we'll explore this critical moment in the second Administration of President Ma Ying-jeou, whose popularity ratings were around 10% even before this event.....
There's some excellent writing on this all around the web in both Chinese and English. Taiwan-based journalist and progressive J Michael Cole wrote what is widely recognized as the best summary of events last week at The Diplomat:
Negotiations on the matter resumed in the legislature in March 2014, when DPP [opposition pro-Taiwan party] Legislator Chen Chi-mai secured the right to plan the agenda for a clause-by-clause review [of the services trade pact] as agreed earlier. However, KMT [ruling pro-China party] legislators blocked the process, leading to clashes in the legislature over a period of three days. Meanwhile, civic organizations launched a sit-in outside the LY.The students then fought off a couple of police attempts to evict them and as of this hour are still barricaded inside the Legislature.
Then, on March 17, with the legislature brought to a standstill and the DPP occupying the podium, Chang [Committee Chair], citing Article 61 of the Legislative Yuan Functions Act, announced that the review process had gone beyond the 90 days allotted for review. The agreement should therefore be considered to have been reviewed and be submitted to a plenary session on March 21 for a final vote. Immediately, the Executive Yuan “congratulated” Chang for successfully reviewing the agreement, even though no review was ever held, and experts later noted that Article 61 did not apply, as the CSSTA is a component of the ECFA, which itself is a “prospective treaty” (准條約) and not an executive order. With 65 members in the 113-seat legislature, the KMT was assured a victory, with expectations that the pact could be implemented as early as June 2014.
The sudden announcement caught everybody by surprise and sparked anger among the public. The sit-ins continued on the evening of March 17, followed by a much larger one on the evening of March 18.
Late in the evening, protesters — a mix of students, academics, civic organizations and others — climbed over the fence at the legislature and managed to enter the building...
The immediate issue was that the two parties, the DPP and the KMT, had agreed to hold a line-by-line review of the services trade pact with China. A line by line review has over 70% public support in most polls, even from ruling party papers. The KMT has pushed the treaty, saying it will boost the economy and provide jobs. The DPP argues it will gut the economy and put Taiwan too closely into China's orbit. After agreeing to the review, the committee opened the session for the review, the DPP occupied the podium, and the KMT Chair of the Committee suddenly announced that the review process had been finished -- even though it had never begun. This has been the pattern from the beginning -- for example, the KMT held eight reviews of the pact, but crammed them into a week, sent notifications late, held them in difficult to access places, etc. The whole thing was a scam.
This transparent end around of the democratic process was what triggered the occupation of the legislature. Fundamentally, however, the problem is that the pact is a dog and has never exceeded more than 35% public support, dropping to 21% since the Legislature was occupied (poll link).
The reason the KMT wants the pact approved administratively rather than by public vote is because the agreement is supported only by big finance, big business, the KMT, the Chinese Communist Party, and cross-strait organized crime (the last an enormous influence which is never mentioned in the foreign media). The treaty is such an ugly dog that even its supporters don't want to be seen voting for it, and many in the ruling party quietly object to it. Even the President, an ardent pro-China ideologue, claims it will create only 12,000 jobs. With wages regressed to 1998 levels and the economy inching along, and the ECFA trade pact with China of a few years ago widely viewed as a failure, the President has little political capital to spend.
The occupation was proceeding peacefully until yesterday when a separate band of students who felt more direct action was necessary occupied the Executive Yuan, which houses the offices of the Premier. The students in the legislature cannot be evicted without the authorization of the Speaker, a wily KMT politician who is a rival of the President and is obviously enjoying embarrassing him by withholding such authorization and protecting the students. The Executive Yuan, however, has no such protection. The students were moved out yesterday, an event featuring beatings and water cannon, though most police handled the students with care (relations between the two have been excellent). How this will affect the protest in the Legislature remains to be seen. J Michael on yesterday's events
This moment shows how intensely Taiwanese, but especially the young, have incorporated democracy into their social identities. The individual students in the legislature are smart, know what they are doing, and some have been involved in student protests now for several years.They are well organized, having established recycling, garbage collection, and medical stations. Some of them are from my own university, one of the top in Taiwan. They are the cream of Taiwan's student population, including future engineers, doctors, economists, and scientists, and I respect, admire, and love them.
English Analysis of Pact from National Taiwan University Econ Dept Chair
Jeff Martin, anthropologist of police in Taiwan, on policing an occupied legislature
Savage Minds anthro blog on the occupation
Ketgalen Media follows it closely, good source
LY student occupation live blog feed