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Monday, October 09, 2006

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On the Eve

The poundin’of the drums, the pride and disgrace
You can bury your dead, but don't leave a trace
Hate your next-door neighbor, but don't forget to say grace
And...tell me over and over and over and over again, my friend
You don't believe
We're on the eve
Of destruction -- "Eve of Destruction" -- P. F. Sloan

Tomorrow, in case you've been in a cave for two months, is Der Tag: the day that former DPP chairman and current Blue ally Shih Ming-teh and his pro-Blue supporters are going to "lay siege" to the Presidential Palace in Taipei during National Day celebrations in an attempt to get the President to step down.

Shih's protest (backgrounder at DKos), now entering its second month, peaked last month with the massive protest in downtown Taipei chronicled extensively and erroneously in the local media. If it ever had an opportunity to become non-partisan, that opportunity has long since disappeared. His supporters, as he admitted in an interview to the NY Times last week, are heavily pro-Blue. He has no positive program for change, no reform demands, no policy proposals. He has ignored ample corruption among the Blues, while focusing his "anti-corruption" protest on President Chen, a man for which no evidence corruption exists. His "movement" is simply the en masse realization of the politics of revenge and defeat, the final grandstanding of a man whose whole career has been a succession of stunts. The only question now is how big a bang his Gotterdammerung is going to have.

The climate of expectation that has gripped the island is rather like that deliciously dreadful anticipation of pain that one experiences at the dentist's office as he leans in with the drill to start the root canal: how much is this gonna hurt? Shih has been cagey about his plans, so no one really knows the answer.

There will, of course, be a sea of red, the campaign's color, out there tomorrow. Taipei is a heavily pro-Blue city and it will be child's play to bring in two or three hundred thousand protesters on a public holiday. In view of the vast potential for violence, which I personally judge to be one highly probable goal of Shih, the media has reported that President Chen will stay away if the Red crowd is too large. He has also asked DPP legislators to stay away as well. The last set of protests in Taipei saw Reds beating on Greens, and the newspapers here have reported the presence of Taipei gangs, well-known to be pro-Blue, at the protest.

Shih has promised to extend his protests to attack DPP legislators who support the President if they do not support a recall motion:

The "pan-blue alliance" formed by the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) and People First Party (PFP) voiced their support for Shih's proposal, stressing that President Chen himself has repeatedly promised to let the people decide his political fate.

However, without a substantial number of "defecting" votes from the DPP's 88 members to vote for the recall of the president, the motion is unlikely to pass the 221-member legislature.

Yeh Yi-jin, secretary-general of the DPP's legislative caucus, said holding such a referendum would only create social turmoil.

"Shih is only voicing his personal views," she said, reiterating her caucus' opposition to the recall motion.

Cheng Hun-peng, another caucus member, said that if the DPP wanted to remove the president, the party might simply ask Chen to step down without having to waste NT$2 billion to hold a national referendum.

As for Shih's demand on DPP lawmakers to "give the people a chance to express their views through a referendum," Cheng said Shih need not "intimidate" DPP legislators like a gangster.


Having failed to gain popular support, Shih's campaign is now venting its frustrations at any target within reach, like a mad scorpion, stinging and stinging until it at last dies of exhaustion.

Meanwhile the island's politicians have been pleading with Shih not to do something violent. Vice-President Lu, once Shih's comrade in arms and fellow prisoner of conscience, implored Shih to restrain his followers:

"[Shih] Ming-teh (施明德), my brother and all of the friends who follow you, I hope you will let the nation celebrate its birthday jubilantly," Lu said. "If there is anything you want to talk about, let's close the door and talk about it since you are one of us."

Lu said that she hoped Shih and his supporters would not do anything radical that would undermine the nation's dignity and tarnish its image on one of its most important holidays.


The fear has even reached the pro-Blue media, which previously has been strongly supportive of Shih. Today the China Post reported as its lead story that Wang Jin-pyng, the dapper speaker of the legislature, noted that more than 4,000 invitees have declined to attend the National Day celebrations. Wang, one of the two main beneficiaries of the Shih-led protests, declined to criticize or advise, saying merely that he prayed that the demonstrations would be peaceful. Wang, KMT Chairman Ma's main rival for KMT leadership, and a possible presidential candidate if Ma's star should darken, has kept a low profile during the protests. He has been throwing warm fuzzies in the direction of former political ally James Soong, currently chairman of the People's First Party (PFP), the other major Blue party. It is an interesting coincidence that Shih Ming-teh's constant attacks on President Chen and Taipei Mayor and KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou benefit one man most of all, James Soong, and that selfsame Soong has been seen sitting at Shih's right hand during the protests. What strange confluences life offers us...

Also exptensively reported in the media here is the heavy burdens the protests are placing on the police. I had the good fortune to talk to a mainlander yesterday whose wife is a Taipei city policeman; she has to work during this five day vacation thanks to Shih's "siege" -- which is illegal, having received no permit -- but she knows who is at fault: Chen Shui-bian.

Meanwhile a group of students is proposing dialogue between the top leaders. If only...

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