I’m swamped right now in my real job, so I haven’t had time to write much recently for this blog. I’m hoping to clear out the pile by maybe … November? In the meantime, in place of fully developed ideas, I’m going to have to resort to relatively short comments.
I have two thoughts about the recent student protests at the Ministry of Education. First, the students crossed an important line when they broke into the ministry, and the government was fully justified in arresting them. Protesters have the right to protest all they want out on the street. They don’t have the right to try to enforce their demands by shutting down part of the executive branch by forcibly occupying it. The legitimacy of the ministry rests on the 2012 election results, in which the KMT won a majority of votes in the presidential race and a majority of seats in the legislature. Voters gave both the president and the legislators four year terms, and those four years are not up yet. No matter how popular the students are, political power must be apportioned through elections. I understand that the executive branch has taken some liberties with the normal processes of textbook revision. Protesters have the right to scream as loudly as possible about that and to try to convince the electorate to impose the heaviest penalty possible the next time they go to the polls. What protesters do not have the right to do is to effectively overturn the previous electoral result by removing the incumbents’ power to govern.
During the Sunflower movement, Taiwan faced a similar situation. A group of protesters forcibly stopped government operations by occupying the legislature. In that case, I swallowed hard and decided that because of the extraordinary circumstances the occupation was perhaps compatible with democratic practices. At the time, the occupation was a unique occurrence. Now these new student protesters are copying the Sunflower occupation and attempting to transform an extraordinary tactic into an ordinary one. This is where I get off the bus. I do not believe that protesters should be able to regularly shut down the government by occupying government offices.
In a somewhat related story, I’m also increasingly disenchanted with Tainan mayor William Lai’s refusal to report to the Tainan city council. Lai has decided that the speaker is guilty of bribery, so he will not enter the chamber. However, Lai is not the prosecutor, judge, and jury. There are institutions that process accusations of election bribery; the mayor is not charged with this task. By asserting the right to make a unilateral judgment of the speaker’s guilt, Lai is showing extreme contempt for the regular legal framework. The KMT sarcastically calls him “God Lai” 賴神, and Lai seems not to have tried to distance himself from this nickname. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Lai seems to place himself above the law.
Returning to the student protests, my second thought on the incident last week is that the arrest of the journalists covering the protests is a disgrace to Taiwan. Whether you agree or disagree with the students’ actions, they were doing something that affects the public interest. The public has a right to know about what they were doing, and the media has an obligation to cover important news concerning public policy. These reporters were providing a necessary public service. However, the police decided to treat the media as if they were protesters. This is unforgivable. It is not as if this is a brand-new situation that the police had to figure out. By now, the police should have clearly defined protocols that distinguish between media and protesters. If Freedom House or some other international organization (deservedly) downgrades Taiwan’s freedom of the press this year, the police and their political masters will bear that responsibility.