Lin Fei-fan: Don’t Let The People Down Again

Photo Credit: Reuters/達志影像
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Lin Fei-fan, one of the student leaders in the 2014 protest that drew half a million people to the streets of Taipei, writes about the mounting dissatisfaction with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and her government as well as the hypocrisy of the international community.

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As President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) marks the first anniversary of her inauguration, three different protests are happening in Taiwan: an occupation in front of the Presidential Office by indigenous people pursuing the return of their traditional territories, which has lasted more than 85 days; a just-concluded protest led by former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairperson Lin Yi-Hsiung (林義雄) urging the amendment of the Referendum Act, held over two weeks in front of the DPP’s headquarters; and, an action against the controversial “Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program,” which would see taxpayers pay NT$880 billion (US$29 billion) for new infrastructure projects across the nation.

The tension on display between the DPP government and civil society during its first year in power is no less than what was seen in the first year of the Kuomintang (KMT) government in 2008. Thinking about it positively, this perhaps symbolizes the maturity of Taiwanese civil society, which has not cooled down since a relatively progressive government took office. However, thinking about it negatively, the new DPP government is in crisis.

After one year in power, the DPP administration’s disapproval rating has reached just shy of 60 percent. A poll by NGOs tackling youth issues reveals that only about 9 percent of the young generation – defined as younger than 35 years old – support the DPP. Youth support for the ruling party greatly lags behind that of the New Power Party, which had 49 percent in the same poll.

This general dissatisfaction among the people is due to a series of policy mistakes and, in particular, the abandonment of campaign promises, such as improved working conditions for the working class, the realization of marriage equality, and the implementation of a cross-Strait agreements oversight mechanism.

Campaigning before the January 2016 election, President Tsai, who was then opposition leader, promised labor unions that the new government would reform holiday laws to reduce working hours. No more than half a year after the DPP took office, the new administration rapidly abandoned this promise and cut the so-called “seven national holidays” of workers.

Although many international liberal media outlets have praised Taiwan’s pursuit of marriage equality – Taiwan could be the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage – because of protests from some radical churches, the DPP government actually shrank back and kicked the ball to the Constitutional Court to determine the issue.

Moreover, on cross-Strait relations, while the DPP government maintained its stance of refusing China’s demand that Taiwan accepts the so-called “1992 consensus,” it again vacillated and postponed fulfilling its promise of building a legal framework for a more effective and participatory mechanism of overseeing cross-Strait negotiations.

All of this vacillation and abandonment of accomplishing its promises has triggered massive distrust of the new government. That is the reason why the new government’s approval rating dropped dramatically within just one year. I conclude that the current administration must adjust its pace, clarify its priorities, frame a clearer political vision, and fulfill its promises.

However, there are some things that are out of Taiwan’s hands, namely, the continued oppression of Taiwan’s international space by the Chinese government and the hypocrisy of the international community.

Taiwan is viewed as one of the most vibrant democracies in East Asia, and perhaps the only democracy in the Chinese-speaking world, but we still do not enjoy equal rights to participate in the international community and essential multilateral organizations.

The most recent example of this is the refusal to give access to Taiwan to attend the World Health Assembly in Geneva. It is very clear that the reason Taiwan is blocked by the WHA is due to China’s continued oppression of Taiwan. But the whole international community has a responsibility as well. Think about the fact that Taiwan is not only one of the most vibrant democracies in East Asia, as I already stated, it is also a rare country boasting a universal and relatively affordable healthcare system, but, ironically, Taiwan does not have the equal right to join this essential health organization to share our experience and reclaim our responsibilities for global health issues. The hypocrisy of the international community is also the reason why China dares to keep threatening and oppressing other nations.

Taiwan is a small island country with 23 million people who treasure a vibrant and peaceful democratic civil society. It has not been easy for Taiwan to reach this stage.

My critiques of the DPP government are still based on my expectations, to some degree. The reason why I still have high expectations of the new government is because I treasure this rare opportunity for Taiwan’s progressive reforms.

I hope the new government will treasure this chance, as many Taiwanese people and I do, and hope that they will not let the people down again.

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Photo Credit: AP/達志影像
Photo Credit: AP/達志影像Lin Fei-fan, left, and Chen Wei-ting, leaders of the student protests against a trade pact with China, during the occupation of the legislature in Taipei, Taiwan, Monday, April 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)

Editor: Edward White

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