Impetuous Mobs and Indolent Politicians Cannot Move a Nation
United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
March 20, 2015
Executive Summary: The Sunflower Student Movement revealed the passion of youth. They
issued an idealistic challenge to political realism. For that they
deserve recognition. But political movements are no substitute for
national governance. Simple slogans cannot resolve Taiwan's complex
problems. The Sunflower Student Movement touted itself as "citizen
politics". It challenged democratic norms. But social movements are no
substitute for normally functioning political mechanisms. This is
Full Text Below:
The Sunflower Student Movement revealed the passion of youth. They issued an idealistic challenge to political realism. For that they deserve recognition. But political movements are no substitute for national governance. Simple slogans cannot resolve Taiwan's complex problems. The Sunflower Student Movement touted itself as "citizen politics". It challenged democratic norms. But social movements are no substitute for normally functioning political mechanisms. This is reality.
The 3/18 student movement conveyed a warning. It revealed widespread dissatisfaction among the younger generation. It also revealed a bigger problem, the vulnerability of Taiwan's democracy. The machinery of state could not withstand the impact of a group of students. It was instantly stunned and paralyzed. Why? Not because the students and mobs were tough or ferocious. But because the entire political system was rigid and incompetent. The feeble Ma administration bore the brunt of the impact. By contrast, legislative indolence was ignored, and DPP opportunism was rewarded. This is a truly shocking irony.
In any democracy, the occupation of its legislature is taboo. The students waved banners in the name of “the people". But can they sweep aside members of the legislature elected by 10 million people? Alas, during the student movement, these legislators were the first to jump ship, and allow students to occupy the legislature for over 20 days without voicing objections. No government or opposition legislators gave a whit about our system of representation. The Legislative Yuan is supposed to defend the dignity, autonomy, and sanctity of the legislature. But the only thing on Wang Jin-pyng's mind was how to exploit the student movement to embarrass the Ma administration. Wang went so far as to personally aid and abet the students. Taiwan has undergone over 20 years of democratization. Yet private scores are still settled by public means. This is the ugly reality behind the Sunflower Student Movement.
The student movement also revealed the ugly reality behind the two major parties, that the Emperor has no clothes. Political parties are ostensibly "quasi-constitutional authorities". They are the channels through which the people make themselves heard. They purportedly "shape the will of the people" and "catalyze the national will”. But in recent years, the KMT and DPP have consistently diluted the will of the people, and even divided the national will.
The KMT has long been inept at rhetoric. It has also been inept at rallying support. Last year, critics attacked the STA and other cross-Strait policies. The Ma government failed to advance a strong macro level defense. It could not refute arguments that cross-Strait political and business groups were monopolizing the benefits of cross-Strait exchanges. Worse still, when students occupied the Legislative Yuan, the executive branch sat on the sidelines, watching as the situation deteriorated. It had no idea how to respond to the demands of the community. As a result, Ma administration impotence during the student movement led directly to its nine in one election debacle. The KMT's cross-strait policy has been skinned alive. It has been reduced to passivity on domestic policy, and unable to take positive action.
Whether the Kuomintang wins or loses is a small matter. What matters is that government wheel-spinning is highly detrimental to national prosperity. The Ma government failed to set a new direction for the nation during the "post-Chen era". If failed to summon support for a new political and economic vision. It clung to "post-Lee era" thinking. It failed seize the opportunity to change the nation's direction. This amounted to a dereliction of duty. Over the past two years, one social movement has followed another. On the surface, it would appear that certain social forces are asserting themselves. In fact, social movements are tools of political manipulation. They may have taught the ruling KMT a painful lesson. But government paralysis squanders the people's time, energy, and opportunities.
Consider the DPP. On the surface it benefited enormously from the Sunflower Student Movement. It is now much closer to a return to power. But the student movement is also an albatross around the DPP's neck. One. Most people know that during the 3/18 student movement, the DPP played the role of demagogue and profiteer, but did little actual work. Therefore its victory in the nine in one elections was hollow. Two. The Sunflower Student Movement robbed the DPP of its initiative. It no longer has an independent and proactive policy. The DPP knows it must alter its cross-Strait policy. But the Sunflower Student Movement has forced it to revert to the past, revealing its flagrant opportunism. Three. The DPP enjoys the support of social movements. It can lash out against the Kuomintang on certain issues. But the DPP must convince the public that it has the ability to govern. It must formulate an overall framework for national policy. The DPP may have strategies, but it lacks policies. It cannot withstand scrutiny. That is why DPP poll numbers have declined recently.
The 3/18 student movement was a powerful citizens movement. On its first anniversary, “the usual suspects” have returned to the scene of the crime, the Legislative Yuan. They are attempting to claim credit for the movement. Even more alarmingly, the ruling party remains in shock, and the opposition party wallows in Schadenfreude. The public must realize that the student movement may have shown the way. But that is no substitute for national governance. Otherwise impetuous mobs and indolent politicians will leave Taiwan perplexed and in chaos. If so, what will become of the next generation?