Their chants are about to cease, and their picket signs will soon be lowered. Tonight at 6 p.m. a sometimes violent, three-week-long protest will come to an end, as Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement withdraws from the nation’s Legislative Yuan.
“We haven’t accomplished all of our goals,” admits Wei-an Tsai, a law student that has picketed with her peers since the rally began in March, and who now works as a spokesperson for the movement. But Tsai says it is time for fellow protestors to step aside because of one key breakthrough in the weeks-long stalemate between the students and the government—a promise from Legislative Chairperson Wang Jin-pyng to instate a supervision act that will bring more transparency to trade agreements with mainland China.
“We think this is an important promise, because it will establish a system that helps citizens participate, and help Legislative Yuan be more active in negotiations for our cross trade agreements with China,” said Tsai during a recent phone interview with Shanghaiist. “We hope that this legislation can force the government to communicate with the public before signing cross trade agreements with China, and let the people’s representatives monitor and supervise those negotiations.”
The protestors have not only been opposed to their government’s opaque attempts to enact that agreement with mainland China—they are also troubled by the deal itself. Dubbed the Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), the accord would allow mainland China to invest in Taiwanese service sectors. President Ma told his citizens that these new economic ties would bolster the Taiwanese tourism industry, but members of the Sunflower Movement worry that TiSA would give the mainland too much economic influence over its island neighbor.
The Sunflower Movement, comprised mostly of law students, began occupying Taipei’s Cabinet offices on March 18. Police moved in and violence broke out, resulting in 58 arrests and 137 injuries. The protestors called it police brutality and turned to social media, drawing a crowd of over 200,000 to occupy the Legislative Yuan, and encampment that endured until today.
But why is the movement content to leave now, especially when its spokesperson admits that many of its demands have gone unanswered? Why is a promise from the Legislative Chairperson enough to satisfy these protestors, and why are they so quick to trust that pledge?
“The students can only do so much. It’s time to come out of the Legislative Yuan and let the movement spread to other corners of Taiwan, to let businesses participate.” Tsai says. When asked if the Sunflower Movement was passing the buck, or softening its stance, she said a continued occupation of the Cabinet offices would only impede the protestors’ progress, rather than bolstering it.
“Most of the public wants us to leave the Cabinet, give it back, so that the legislators can discuss their pact with us. We also think the focus should shift away from the students and onto everyone in Taiwan,” Tsai says.
As they stand back, and wait to see if Chairperson Wang will keep his word, some of the protestors will focus on more pragmatic efforts. Tsai says the movement will lobby for the impeachment of four legislators—Wu Yu-Sheng Lin Hong-Chih, Lin Te-Fu and Chang Ching-Chung—who are believed to at the beck and call of president Ma, rather than their constituents. By reaching out to the counties represented by those legislators, the Sunflower movement hopes to galvanize no confidence votes that will remove those politicians, and in turn reduce the president’s legislative leverage. None of the aforementioned legislators replied to Shanghaiist’s interview requests.
“Students have surrounded these legislators and their offices, returned to the regions that elected them, and will continue to push for a vote that will kick them out,” Tsai said.
Tsai said those impeachment plans, and the recent occupation of the Legislative Yuan, have renewed her faith in Taiwan’s future. She said a decade of increased legislative bickering, reduced government transparency, and gradual concession to the PRC’s influence (especially the attempted acquisition of Taiwan’s Next Media company by Want Want China Times Media Group in 2012, which prompted protests in favor of Taiwanese free speech and press freedoms) left many locals worried about the health of their democracy.
“Now I’m optimistic,” Tsai says. “This latest movement reminds citizens that if legislators cannot represent the people’s voice, then the people can come out and speak for themselves.”
By Kyle Lawrence
[Image Credit: Kyle Lawrence // @Hisayu via Imgur]