by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Treasure Our Island Organization
WITH MORE THAN sixty civic groups rallying on Ketagalan Boulevard against forced evictions and demolitions on Sunday, civil society groups and youth activists continue to push the Tsai administration regarding issues of urban and rural gentrification in Taiwan. The demonstration was primarily organized by the Taiwan Alliance of Anti-Forced Eviction, the Treasure Our Island Organization, and the Taiwan Association for Human Rights.
The Tsai administration has made symbolic gestures to address problems of forced eviction and gentrification in Taiwan, such as stating that it would rebuild the Chang pharmacy which was demolished in Dapu, Miaoli. Forced evictions in Miaoli were a crucial issue for Taiwanese youth activism in the years leading up to the Sunflower movement. Seeing as the Tsai administration rode into power in part because of support from post-Sunflower youth activists, this is probably a move aimed at placating youth activists given the symbolic import of the Chang pharmacy. Peng Hsiu-chun, the widowed wife of the owner of the Chang pharmacy, was among those present at the rally.
But civil society groups and activists have been demanding firmer promises and more concrete actions from the Tsai administration, criticizing the government’s inaction on campaign promises on social issues such as support for gay marriage or waffling on labor issues such as public holidays and wage raises. It is that activists criticize what they see as token efforts by the Tsai administration to act as though it were enacting change, such as vowing to reconstruct the Chang pharmacy, but avoiding the broader structural reforms which are necessary to actually correct the social roots of issues as urban or rural gentrification and forced land development.
Groups from central and southern Taiwan made a strong showing at the rally, seeing as many anti-gentrification and anti-eviction struggles since the Tsai administration took office have occurred in central or southern Taiwan. Though continuing a broader tendency of city mayors coming into conflict with youth activists over issues of forced evictions or demolitions, Kaohsiung mayor Chen Chu in particular has in recent months come into conflict with Kaohsiung youth activists and neighborhood self-help organizations regarding evictions for urban infrastructure. Two examples include the demolition of a housing complex adjacent to a fruit and vegetable market in Sanmin District in northern Kaohsiung and attempts to demolish the Dagouding residential neighborhood.
In general, it continues to be a problem in Taiwan that households are forcibly evicted for urban infrastructure projects or commercial development. The former attests to a failure of sustainable urban planning, an endemic problem in urban and rural planning in Taiwan, with many cases returning to the failure of government officials to communicate with and take into account the wishes of local residents before starting infrastructure development projects.
In the case of the latter, sometimes it even is that development companies work in collusion with local government officials and organized crime to try and intimidate residents into vacating and selling valuable real estate they may be living on. Collusion between development companies and local politicians occurs not only in the case of KMT, but also DPP politicians. It was a popular criticism by youth activists that during the Chen Shui-Bian period, DPP politicians sometimes took the opportunity to step into the positions of local power previously occupied by KMT politicians—and sometimes proved to be just as corrupt.
If the Tsai administration has to date continued to enjoy a clean image free of any taint of corruption, failure by the Tsai administration to take action regarding problems of rural or urban eviction in Taiwan may lead to the Tsai administration being seen as being too afraid to rock the boat concerning potential corruption in her own party. Indeed, this may generally be the case regarding other campaign promises which the Tsai administration has been quiet on since taking office. For example, if the Tsai administration suggesting support for the legalization of gay marriage reflects that this is increasingly an uncontroversial political position to express, this stance has the potential to offend heavily Presbyterian elements of the DPP.
In past months, when civil society groups or activists of varying political stripes have demonstrated against the Tsai administration, usually the Tsai administration has vowed to take into account their wishes, reiterated that when the Tsai administration needs to be pushed on certain issues it should be pushed, and made concessions. This has led to the criticism that the Tsai administration too easily makes concessions to social groups that demonstrate against it, as well as the criticism that the concessions the Tsai administration makes are usually trivial gestures, aimed at placating dissatisfied social groups more than genuinely enacting change. Will this also be the case in regards to issues of rural and urban gentrification in Taiwan?