by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Brian Hioe

A SPONTANEOUS PROTEST took place outside of the Legislative Yuan tonight, drawing hundreds of young people. Overnight spontaneous demonstrations on the scale of today’s protest have been rarely seen in the ten years since the 2014 Sunflower Movement, with such protests mostly fading after the Tsai administration took office.

The protest took place against actions by the pan-Blue camp today, aimed at pushing through a number of legal changes. The day had already seen fights break out in the legislature between the DPP and KMT regarding the disputed bills, as a result of which student groups gathered outside of the legislature in protest.

Photo credit: Brian Hioe

Specifically, the KMT aims to require the president to report to the legislature and make a state of the nation address, as well as to respond to a question-and-answer session from lawmakers. The DPP was willing to allow for a state of the union address but hesitant about the question-and-answer session, likely realizing that the pan-Blue camp would aim to press Lai into saying comments that could potentially be used as pretext for retaliatory measures by China directed at Taiwan, whether in terms of military threats or economic coercion.

Likewise, the KMT aims to grant new prosecutorial powers to the legislature, allowing legislators to summon government officials or members of organizations for questioning by investigatory committees. Those who refuse could be subject to criminal charges on the basis of “contempt of the legislature.” Concerns are that the pan-Blue camp would use such measures to politically target individuals, using the vagueness of such charges to do so. Such powers could also be used to try and undermine the operations of the Lai administration.

Photo credit: Brian Hioe

Though the potential impact of such new powers could be large, there had been relatively limited discussion of the issue in past weeks. However, the KMT stoked outrage because the text of the bills had not been publicized, the KMT tried to push the bill through a second reading without a line-by-line reading of the text on the floor of the legislature. The DPP has framed this as the KMT circumventing committee review, similar to the KMT’s actions that precipitated the 2014 Sunflower Movement, in attempting to circumvent committee review to pass the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA).

Further angering of protesters was violence used by the KMT against DPP legislators, with three hospitalized as a result of fighting in the legislature. Puma Shen of the DPP appears to have been the most severely injured, tumbling onto his head after being pushed by KMT legislators. Shen was sent to the hospital for an MRI and suffered a severe concussion, though he eventually was able to return home. Other DPP legislators that were sent to the hospital include Chiu Chi-wei, Chuang Jui-hsiung, and Chung Chia-bin, with Chiu suffering a slight concussion, Chuang having chest pains, and Chung suffering a rib injury. On the other hand, Jacky Wu of the KMT, too, was sent to the hospital.

Photo credit: Brian Hioe

Antics by KMT politicians such as Hsu Chiao-hsin, who played the national anthem with the recorder while in the legislature, likely did not help matters. This added to the public perception that the KMT was trivializing the matter.

As a late-night demonstration by young people outside of the Legislative Yuan, the protest was keenly aware of its parallels to the 2014 Sunflower Movement. The Sunflower Movement broke out on March 18th, 2014 with the occupation of the Taiwanese legislature by student activists against the KMT’s efforts to pass the CSSTA, which were accused of being a “black box” in that the public was kept in the dark about the trade agreement, and the trade agreement was passed into law in a manner that routed around oversight mechanisms.

Photo credit: Brian Hioe

Though commemorations for the Sunflower Movement were held in March, tonight’s demonstration far surpassed them in scale. Sunflower Movement slogans such as “If the KMT does not fall, Taiwan cannot improve” (國民黨不倒,台灣不會好) and references to the “black box” were raised by speakers during the open mic period held during the protest. At another point, the crowd sang Sunflower Movement anthem “Island’s Sunrise.” Former Sunflower Movement leader Huang Kuo-chang of the TPP, who has since defected to the pan-Blue camp, was a frequent target of ire, along with Hsu Chiao-hsin and KMT legislative caucus convener Fu Kun-chi.

Likewise, comparisons to Hong Kong frequently came up, with speakers framing the KMT’s actions as possibly leading to Taiwan becoming like Hong Kong. Some of the speakers during the open mic were from Hong Kong.

Photo credit: Brian Hioe

To this extent, speakers were multigenerational, in that some of those present were participants in the Sunflower Movement, while others were too young to have participated. This included some high school students. The KMT was framed as having failed to learn the lessons of ten years prior, that it would again try to push bills through the legislature in a manner that was lacking transparency and sought to override democratic institutions.

Compared to the Sunflower Movement, however, the crowd was more approving of the DPP. DPP legislators who stepped outside were applauded by students. By comparison, the Sunflower Movement sought to keep its distance from the DPP, even if in the past decade, the continued threat of the KMT has pushed many former Sunflower Movement activists to join the DPP.

Photo credit: Brian Hioe

Some preparations were made in case students would have to stay out overnight or if there were clashes with the police. A supply station with plastic water bottles was set up and students were advised to call the Legal Aid Foundation in the event of arrests of police violence. A rainbow Taiwan flag and Hong Kong independence flag were waved on-site. Demonstrators held signs reading, “I show contempt toward legislature,” citing the dangers of the new law.

The demonstration was not the only protest in the past decade that seemed to be an echo of the Sunflower Movement. Another example was the 2015 occupation of the Ministry of Education by high school students over attempts by the KMT to change history textbooks to play up links between Taiwan and China, downplay Taiwan’s independent history, and to whitewash the teaching of the authoritarian period.

DPP legislators on the gate of the Legislative Yuan. Photo credit: Brian Hioe

Nevertheless, a recess to the legislative session was declared by Legislative Yuan president Han Kuo-yu at midnight. As such, the protest gradually dispersed after midnight, with participants called on to return on Tuesday, when the bill would next be discussed.

It is to be seen what takes place with the bills going forward, then. Certainly, there will be more attention on them than before, with tonight’s demonstrations. Moreover, despite public perceptions that the majority of young people support the TPP, there clear continue to be young people who oppose the KMT, TPP, and other pan-Blue parties, who are able to politically mobilize in the event of crisis. It is likely Tuesday will see further protest.

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