Student Movement: Time for an Exit Strategy
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China)
March 31, 2014
Summary: Yesterday hundreds of thousands heeded the student movement call to march in protest of the Cross-Strait Agreement on Trade in Services. Police estimate nearly 120,000 people marched on Ketegelan Boulevard. This was the largest mass movement on Taiwan in recent years. Different segments of society may have different evaluations of the protest march. But ultimately it will go down as an important moment in Taiwan's political history.
Full text below:
Yesterday hundreds of thousands heeded the student movement call to march in protest of the Cross-Strait Agreement on Trade in Services. Police estimate nearly 120,000 people marched on Ketegelan Boulevard. This was the largest mass movement on Taiwan in recent years. The large numbers resulted in a few minor incidents. But the student organizations lived up to their commitment. They concluded their activities at 7pm. They returned to the Legislative Yuan sit in site. This can be considered a rational and peaceful conclusion. Different segments of society may have different evaluations of the protest march. But ultimately it will go down as an important moment in Taiwan's political history.
Organizing a protest march and rally involving hundreds of thousands of people is no simple matter. The organizers and mobilizers of this large scale political event were novices -- young students. Many police officers have never encountered such a large-scale event. What's more, the event took place on Ketegelan Plaza, close to the Presidential Palace, a location even more sensitive than the Executive Yuan and the Legislative Yuan. The potential risks can only be imagined.
Fortunately, neither side wanted the event to degenerate and lead to conflict. As a result, they demonstraed considerable maturity and self-restraint. Student groups were loath to be branded a "mob." Therefore they swore nonviolence beforehand. Police did not want to be branded perpetrators of "state violence" merely for maintaining order. Therefore they declared in advance that they would use "kid gloves." As a result, the march ended peacefully. The efforts by both sides merit recognition.
The protest march has ended, but the deadlock persists. The student groups are loath to end their occupation of the Legislative Yuan. The DPP advocated withdrawing the agreement on trade in services, and reviewing it in committee. Faced with demands by the student movement, President Ma agreed to a dialogue mechanism. He agreed to support cross-strait legislative oversight mechanisms. He agreed to consider convening a citizens' constitutional conference. He has made so many concessions, he can retreat no further. Yet the student leaders are utterly unmoved. They apparently think they are in an excellent bargaining position. As a result, they are demanding even more than the DPP. They have declared that unless the cross strait agreement on trade in services is withdrawn, everything is off the table.
How did matters come to this? Now the dispute may be even more difficult to resolve. President Ma's popularity may be low. But he remains the legitimate head of state, elected by a democratic majority. Policies must be implemented. He is responsible to the electorate who voted for him, not to the students who occuped the legislature. Student groups may accuse President Ma of ignoring public criticism. They may express strong objections through marches and rallies. But in the end they must fall back on the system. The students may think of themselves as smart. They may think they understand the cross-strait agreement on trade in services. But in the end, they cannot bypass the system. They must operate in accordance with the legislative process. If the student movement insists on having its way, Taiwan will confront its most serious crisis ever.
This is most worrisome . The student movement gained the upper hand in the rhetorical battle from day one. But their demands became increasing absolutist. Their definition of "democracy" is their one-sided definition of democracy. Their definition of "dialogue" is their one-sided definition of dialogue. It is only dialogue if it results in what they demand. They occupied the halls of the legislature. They occupied the Executive Yuan. They destroyed public property, yet consider this reasonable behavior. Police evictions are invariably denounced as "state violence." They totally refuse to listen to dissenting opinions. Any expression of dissent on the Internet, is besieged or humiliated. The protest has reached a point where it may proceed down a path it once opposed.
Let us be blunt. The student movement leaders may have been wildly successful in achieving their demands. They may be highly effective in their mobilization skills. But sooner or later they must have an exit strategy. Suppose President Ma refuses to withdraw the cross strait agreement in trade in services? Do the students really intend to occupy the legislative yuan forever? True, they could launch a student strike, worker strike, or protest march once every week. Let the stock market plummet. Let political risk on Taiwan skyrocket. After all, if it all goes wrong, you can blame it on President Ma, right? Why didn't he listen to the student movement? But if you actually go down this path, you will drag down more than just the Ma government. You will drag down all of Taiwan.
A note to the student leaders. The excitement is over. Time to establish a stop-loss point. In 13 short days, you achieved what the DPP failed to achieve over eight or nine months. You successfully captured national media attention, even global media attention. You forced the ruling party to retreat, step by step. You forced President Ma to lower himself and seek dialogue. You even mobilized a successful rally. Your achievements rank up there alongside the Wild Lily and Wild Strawberry student movements. Whatever happens to the cross-strait agreement in trade in services, you have earned the respect of the public. The Sunflower student movement will go down in history.
Your next step must be to allow the legislature to do its job. You have unfinished studies that must be completed. One day your time will come.
中國時報 本報訊 2014年03月31日 04:10