by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Brian Hioe

CONTROVERSIAL LEGAL CHANGES pushed for by the KMT and TPP passed their third reading today. As such, it is a question what happens next, with protests against the new bills having exploded from 300 demonstrating outside of the legislature on May 17th, to 30,000 on May 21st, and the current peak of over 100,000 on May 24th.

At press time, there are over 30,000 outside of the Legislative Yuan according to organizers, making the protests a similar size to last Tuesday. Further actions are planned for tonight, but it is not yet clear what this will consist of. Namely, after the bill passed its third reading, Economic Democracy Union convener Lai Chung-chiang declared that civil society groups would convene a working group in New Taipei, Taiwan’s largest city, for a planned action. Likewise, individuals were called on to take action back to their local constituencies so that KMT legislators would feel the dissatisfaction of the people with their actions.

Photo credit: Brian Hioe

Otherwise, Lai and other speakers, such as academic and left theorist Wu Rwei-ren, called on participants to join existing organizations or form new networks after going home, with Wu pointing to the relative lack of student movements in the ten years since the Sunflower Movement. Wu went on to term the KMT and TPP’s actions to be a parliamentary coup, using existing constitutional institutions to overturn the government, as a power grab. After all, noted Wu, the KMT was a former authoritarian party. In other comments by speakers, there were a number of references to international solidarity efforts for the movement, as well as petitions from international experts against the law.

Speakers called for action but did not call for direct action, such as seeking to occupy the legislature. At times, speakers brought up the differences between the present and the Sunflower Movement a decade ago, which involved the month-long occupation of the Taiwanese legislature in protest of a trade agreement that the then-ruling KMT aimed to sign with China.

Photo credit: Brian Hioe

Yet it is still possible that direct actions take place tonight. Or protesters may, in fact, simply go back home and organize. This has occurred before in the wake of preceding movements, such as the Wild Strawberry Movement of 2008, which proved instrumental in the development of the later, much larger Sunflower Movement, because student participants in the movement went back to their respective campuses and schools and formed new student activist groups. These groups developed ties and built networks that were later mobilized in the Sunflower Movement. This also continues calls for activists to return to their hometowns and seek to change politics at the grassroots level after the Sunflower Movement.

Either way, one notes that the ongoing protest movement recently acquired an identity in the form of the term “Bluebird Movement” (青鳥運動). This derives its name from Qingdao East Road (青島東路), where the main stage was set up for the demonstrations to date, though today’s demonstration had its main stage set up on the wider Jinan Road.

Photo credit: Brian Hioe

The protest today takes place concurrently with demonstrations across all of Taiwan, in fifteen cities or counties. The protest in Taipei has sought to highlight other protests, showing clips of demonstrators in other places, or with speakers that also participated in demonstrations elsewhere.

It was expected that the bill would pass its third reading today, in spite of delaying actions by the DPP legislative caucus. The DPP legislative caucus clashed with the KMT and TPP caucuses, throwing balloons in the legislature, and throwing what appeared to be bags of garbage at the KMT when they were on the verge of passing the bill.

Photo credit: Brian Hioe

KMT Legislative Yuan president Han Kuo-yu has been criticized for restricting DPP legislators to three minutes of individual commentary, in order to ensure that the bill passes, and not allowing for further discussion in a manner that might actually provide substantive oversight or expert opinions on the bill. Likewise, vote counting took place through raising hands and counting, something criticized as leading to voter irregularities, particularly as Taiwan has a 113-seat legislature.

As with preceding protests, supply stations were set up throughout the protest, along with stations for childcare, first aid, and even for massages. Walls of protest art were set up, many mocking enemies of the movement such as TPP legislator Huang Kuo-chang, KMT caucus convener Fu Kun-chi, and Han Kuo-yu. Lai Chung-chiang honed in on criticisms of Fu Kun-chi in particular, as did UMC founder Robert Tsai and others, in light of Fu’s recent trip to China to meet with Chinese government officials including CCP chief ideologist Wang Huning.

Photo credit: Brian Hioe

Musical performances included the singing of a song adapted from the poetry of Taiwanese poet Loa Hoa, a song on the 324 attempted occupation of the Executive Yuan during the Sunflower Movement, and a song adapted from the “Master Onion Memorial” (蔥師表), a satirical, sutra-like poem mocking Huang Kuo-chang that has gone viral in past days, producing over 20 different versions. Sunflower and lilies, representing the 1990 Wild Lily Movement and 2014 Sunflower Movement, were distributed. Musicians including cellists and saxophone players performed on the side of the demonstration, as white ribbons were tied to the legislature. “Villain hitting” of the enemies of the movement also took place and stations were made for calligraphy of protest slogans. Planned performances by professional musicians include by Burning Island, Tsng-kha-lâng, and others.

When it became clear that the bill had passed, protesters unveiled two large balloon balls with the demands of the protest on them and lobbed them toward the Legislative Yuan. Neither made it in, but this is one of a number of times that balloon balls representing protest demands have been lobbed at the legislature in recent memory. Another ball was thrown at the legislature on Qingdao East Road.

Ball signifying the demands of protesters. Photo credit: Brian Hioe

Civil society groups at present have called on the Executive Yuan to exercise its powers of oversight over the bill. Otherwise, the DPP party caucus has stated that it will seek a constitutional interpretation of the new law. As the new law arrogates elements of executive power and judicial power to the legislature, the law may in fact be unconstitutional. In this respect, Taiwan may be on the verge of a constitutional crisis. Although President Lai Ching-te has powers of veto, this would make little difference and does not constitute a veto with binding power, as veto provisions in Taiwan simply return the bill back to the legislature for just over two more weeks of discussion and do not block bills. At the same time, the KMT and TPP would likely frame the move as an attempt by the DPP to use executive and judicial powers to suppress the legislature, with the KMT having framed its actions as expanding legislative power to provide oversight over the unchecked power of the executive branch of government.

Regardless, contention over the legal changes is not over yet. Fu Kun-chi has already announced that the KMT intends to form “special investigation groups” to investigate the DPP over the handling of vaccines, medical masks, and egg shortages that Taiwan has seen. The effort will clearly be to put members of the preceding Tsai administration in jail, continuing the pattern of the KMT seeking to arrest members of previous political administrations when in power.

No more articles