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Tsai says social movements don't run countries, and she's right

Publication Date : 08-05-2014


Tsai Ing-wen, a favorite standard bearer of Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) for 2016, has rarely said the right thing. For once, however, she has.

While some leaders in her party are eager to hitch the DPP's fortunes to the new activism carried on by the Sunflower Student Movement and the anti-nuclear civic movements in sympathy with Lin Yi-hsiung's hunger strike, she responded: “You can't run a country on a basis of social movements. You have to go back to politics.”

It's a worthy answer to the skeptical question the London-based Economist magazine raised about Taiwan's future in an article titled “When the Wind Blows,” pointing out that our future could be decided on the streets. The celebrated British journal comments in its latest issue that as for where Taiwan's politics will go after the successful social movements, “street protests are not only a hallmark but a deciding factor.”

The British magazine is right about Taiwan's streets reflecting the widespread disillusions of its young generation toward the weakness of political institutions that are only further undermined by the renewed activism. To be exact, student activists are repeating the activism that the opposition party has perpetuated with an interruption between its Tangwai (outside of the Kuomintang) days in the 1970s and the eight years when it ruled Taiwan from 2000 to 2008. Tangwai leaders agitated to force President Chiang Ching-kuo to lift the ban on forming a new party besides the Kuomintang in 1987, but the DPP was inaugurated the year before, and Chiang did not try to disband it.

Activism can be a catalyst for change in politics, but it cannot decide how a country is to be ruled. Let's recall what happened with the “Occupy Movement.” It was an international protest movement against social and economic inequality, the primary goal being to make the economic and political relations in all societies less vertical, less hierarchical and more flatly distributed.

It was inspired by the Arab Spring, the Portuguese and Spanish Indignants movement in Iberia and the Tea Party in the United States. The first one to attract world attention was the Occupy Wall Street movement that kicked off on Nov. 17, 2011. Since then the protest movement spread worldwide to at least 82 countries, not including Taiwan. At one time in the United States and the United Kingdom, Occupy protests were ongoing in more than 951 communities.

The New York movement, described by Cornel West as a “democracy awakening” in the Washington Post, had the slogan “We are the 99 per cent.” Remember the slogan of Sunflower students when they occupied the debating chamber of the Legislative Yuan? They shouted “We are the 91 per cent, against Ma Ying-jeou's 9 per cent!”

The primary goal of the anti-nuclear protesters and those who opposed the passage by the Legislative Yuan of the Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement is to make the economic and political relations in Taiwan less vertically, less hierarchically and more flatly distributed. Theirs is, in fact, a latter-day imitation of the “democracy awakening” movement.

In the first two months, American and British authorities largely adopted a tolerant approach toward the Occupy movement in the United States and the United Kingdom, but this began to change in mid-October.

By the end of 2011, the authorities had cleared most of the protest camps, with the last remaining high-profile sites — Washington and London — evicted by February 2012. The new activism hasn't become a deciding factor in politics in the two leading powers of the world. Neither will Taiwan's renewed activism.


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