All Taiwan must pull together to improve its people's lives

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 March, 2014, 5:05am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 March, 2014, 5:05am

A quarter of a century has not been long enough for Taiwan to perfect its democracy. The occupation of parliament and part of the government headquarters by hundreds of mostly student activists is as much a protest against the policies of President Ma Ying-jeou as opposition to a cross-strait trade agreement. As legitimate as the protesters may feel their grievances are, though, stopping lawmakers from doing their job is counterproductive. Claims that the ruling Kuomintang government is thwarting the democratic process is negated by their own disregard for it.

Taiwanese democracy has always been a boisterous affair. But the well-orchestrated invasion and violence in which dozens of police and protesters were injured was unprecedented. Although not directly allied to the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party, the protesters' actions neatly fitted its agenda for retraction of the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement bill, perceived as being lopsided.

The pact was a further stage of Ma's biggest achievement, the 2010 Economic Co-operation Framework Agreement, which has greatly reduced trade barriers between the island and the mainland. Taking account of doubts of some Taiwanese over economic integration, lawmakers agreed last June that the pact would be reviewed line by line and voted on a clause at a time. When it became clear last week that the majority nationalist KMT intended to ram it through the legislature, protests outside parliament escalated.

Trade agreements have to be mutually beneficial and evolve through a transparent process. The lack of symmetry from the pact was noticeable, with few restrictions on mainland companies seeking to set up in Taiwan, but many for firms from the island looking for mainland business. That naturally fed concerns about loss of jobs and economic dependence on Beijing. The rift between the KMT and DPP has been widened by an opposition boycott of parliament over the bill.

A democratic system takes time and effort to build and has to be constantly nurtured. Whatever the political disagreements, though, all sides have to work together to improve the lives of the people they serve. Legislators and citizens do not have the right to ignore laws and regulations and protests have to be peaceful and orderly. If the KMT and Ma are perceived as being no longer fit to govern, voters can decide at local elections in December and presidential polls due in 2016.