Circling the Presidential Office
Last night, I watched the local Hong Kong news coverage of Friday’s encirclement of the Presidential Office by the Anti-Chen protestors. Both Hong Kong’s broadcast stations had teams of reporters covering the event and as expected, the reporting was essentially pan-blue propaganda. Shih Ming-teh and the organizers of the so-called "Million Voices Against Corruption Campaign” are doing such a fine job that Chinese leaders confidently remained silent and say that the protest is merely a local Taiwan matter.
As the march continued, the Hong Kong stations were repeating campaign numbers saying that 500,000 participated, then 750,000 and finally claiming one million participated in the protest.
One interesting aspect of the slant was a subtle attempt to imply that the Taiwan protest is similar to the Hong Kong protests against then Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa. Coverage showed families with young children marching and shouting slogans. They interviewed intelligent and rational people urging to topple the ‘corrupt’ Chen Shui-bian government by pressuring for his resignation. They portray this as an action of the people seeking justice and fairness by marching for democracy against a corrupt government. They show non-political types marching for the first time and with their children for them to learn valuable civic lessons – these were the same themes of the Hong Kong protests that ultimately forced Tung to resign his office.
Of course, there was no mention of the behind the scene orchestration by the pan-blue machinery and that Shih Ming-teh is in deep in their pocket. Also unheard was the prevalence of black gold politics within the blue camp and the refusal of the organizers to deal with this ingrained problem if this is indeed a campaign against government corruption.
The campaign is simply presented as Taiwan's version of the anti-Tung Chee-hwa movement. Even the chants are similar. In Hong Kong, we shouted “Tung Chee-hwa Step Down” while the Taiwan version is “Ah-Bian Step Down”. Throughout the evening, there were news updates with live pictures of the march; most of the news broadcasts focused on this story. When other news was read, the stations split the television screen and continued to show live images of the march during the entire broadcast.
This coverage leads the average Hong Kong person to become sympathetic to the protestors’ cause and conviction that Chen is corrupt. In Hong Kong, the protest of 2003 started a groundswell that ultimately led to Tung’s replacement. The reports suggest that such momentum already exists among the Taiwanese public and it too will lead to the downfall of an evil president.
The most obvious difference between the two situations is not discussed. In Hong Kong, Tung Chee-hwa was chosen by a committee of 800 hand-picked by Beijing. In Taiwan, President Chen was elected by the people of Taiwan. No one asks the obvious question that if President Chen is as corrupt as claimed, why not move to impeach him under the constitution? Instead of sit-ins and protests, they can simply pressure the Legislative Yuan to impeach Chen for his alleged wrongdoings or simply let the current judicial investigations to take their course. These are safeguards built into the constitution to remove corrupt leaders. Hong Kong’s Basic Law (our mini-constitution under one country-two systems rule) does not provide for impeachment or removal of the Chief Executive by the Legislative Council for misconduct. Thus, Hong Kong's political system offers few avenues for the public to express displeasure so protesting and marching are ways we express our views. But this is not the case in Taiwan! People can vote out corrupt political leaders and they can pressure their legislators to recall or impeach their president. Why disrupt Taiwan society by blocking streets and calling for general strikes? Just call their legislators to initiate impeachment if things are so bad. That such public display is used reflect the complete political nature of the campaign.
Another thought came to mind as I watch the highlights of Shih Ming-teh’s speech is that he may be thinking of using this campaign as a springboard to the presidency. Of course he knows that such a move means he will lose his pan-blue support. Yet, I get the impression that in his current euphoria, he thinks he can harness ‘people power’ to gain the presidency. Regardless of success or (most likely) failure of his campaign against President Chen, hitching to an anti-corruption platform as a champion of democracy (and using what remains of his $100 million campaign chest), he may think that his current stardom may allow him to make a political comeback all the way to the presidency without pan-blue financial support. In fact, he may even turn his anti-corruption theme against the hand that has been feeding him in recent years. Is it a brilliant strategy or just a delusion? Never a dull moment in Taiwan politics!