Red Shirts and White Shirts
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China)
August 5, 2013
Summary: The Ma administration must engage in soul-searching. It must address the public discontent it has provoked over the past five years through its unpopular policies. The Ma administration must think about winning peoples' hearts and minds, and not just implementing reform. It does not even know who the White Shirt protestors are. Unless it catches on, more and more White Shirts will take to the streets, with increasing frequency.
Full text below:
In August 2006, corruption by President Chen Shui-bian and his family inspired former DPP Chairman Shih Ming-teh to launch his "Million Man Movement to depose Ah-Bian." Beginning on September 9th, street protests raged for a full month. On October 10, Republic of China National Day, Shih launched his "Siege of All Under Heaven." On that day, an estimated 1.5 million people surrounded the presidential palace.
Less than 7 years later, 250,000 people have taken to the streets. This time however, the object of their protest, was Ma Ying-jeou, long time champion of political reform and clean government. Ma Ying-jeou is a "boy scout." He is a stickler about the law, without even a whiff of corruption. Why has his honeymoon period been shorter than Chen Shui-bian, who was guilty of unbridled corruption?
Behind the Red Shirts political protests were long-accumulated grievances against the DPP and Chen Shui-bian. As a result, the movement received over one million NT in contributions within 10 days. It also had the participation of well-known political, cultural, social movement, and community leaders. They underscored the legitimacy of the movement and broadened its appeal. The political parties participated from behind the scenes. The media added fuel to the fire. The result was a sweeping social movement.
Last Saturday's White Shirts protest march received substantial media coverage. But otherwise it lacked the conditions that made the Red Shirts movement a success. Its leaders were 39 individuals from different walks of life. Many were novices who never participated in a social protest movement before. Yet in a mere 20 days, they persuaded tens of thousands of people to take to the streets, not once, but twice, surprising everyone.
Hung Chung-chiu died just over one month ago. One month ago, no one imagined a lowly corporal's death would inspire a quarter of a million people to take to the streets. Even on the eve of the protest, no ruling or opposition party politician imagined that online publicity could result in such a strong showing.
The pundits failed to predict and could not explain this phenomenon. Many of them concluded that an Internet generation "new citizens' movement" had taken shape. But that is an oversimplification. Does it really hold water? That remains open to question. The simplest answer is, suppose it had been a different social issue, and a different target of protest? Suppose today the president was Chen Shui-bian or Tsai Ing-wen? Would the same approach have yielded the same results?
A quarter of a million White Shirts took to the streets. The participants looked younger than those who participated in the earlier protest in front of the Ministry of National Defense. Some were parents who brought along their daughters, who are exempt from military duty. Some were young men, who were exempt because Ma Ying-jeou abolished the draft and implemented a volunteer military. Some were protesting the "Tai Po Incident." Some were concerned about the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant. Some objected to TISA. Some were angry about 12 year compulsory education. After the protest march ended, those who demolished the Legislative Yuan wall were none other than Tsai Ting-kui and his supporters, who insist that "Ah-Bian is not guilty."
Hung Chung-chiu's death is unfortunate and infuriating. Over the past month, the military has been arrogant and indifferent. It has trotted out bizarre excuses that have only added fuel to the fire and made people angrier than they were before. Nevertheless, most people do no think the military harbors an criminal cabal that planned the murder of Hung Chung-chiu. Therefore the focus of the protests will remain "We want the Truth!"
The Hung Chung-chiu case is like a dam that has developed cracks. Long term discontent with the Ma administration has reached the boiling point. It has spilled out because of these cracks in the dam. The Hung Chung-chiu incident was the public's cue to lam into the Ma administration.
Even absent Ma Ying-jeou's verbal faux pas yesterday, the military is not the only source of public dissatisfaction. The military can be reformed. The Ma administration must solve these problems one by one. It must address these many and varied grievances. It must relieve the pressure. Otherwise the White Shirts are likely to return. Their numbers may increase. Their stay may increase as well.
Ma Ying-jeou is already a lame duck. Society as a whole remains awash in dissatisfaction over Ma. It has become a pressure cooker. Any reform that harms anyone's interests, will add fuel to the fire and result in an explosion. When Premier Chiang took office he championed a referendum on the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant. Ma Ying-jeou has never given up on pension reform. Now both appear to be "Mission Impossible." Even TISA, which does Taiwan far more good than harm, may encounter difficulty.
The only reform Ma can promote now is self-reform. He can reform the KMT. He can reform the Ma administration. But he can no longer do so on a piecemeal basis. He can no longer assume that tinkering at the margins, and that reforming the military can quell discontent, and allow him to squeak by.
The Ma administration must engage in soul-searching. It must address the public discontent it has provoked over the past five years through its unpopular policies. Only then can it escape reproach. Only then can it avoid a "damned if you do and damned if you don't" situation and survive for the next three years. The Ma administration must think about winning peoples' hearts and minds, and not just implementing reform. It does not even know who the White Shirt protestors are. Unless it catches on, more and more White Shirts will take to the streets, with increasing frequency.