Taiwan marks anniversary of republic as political turmoil swirls

Ma and KMT rival Wang put their hatchets aside to mark 102nd birthday of the republic while thousands protest to put a damper on the party

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 October, 2013, 3:13pm
UPDATED : Friday, 11 October, 2013, 9:30am

Taiwan yesterday celebrated the 102nd birthday of the Republic of China amid protests by civic groups upset by political scandals and the perceived poor performance of President Ma Ying-jeou's government.

Video: Protesters in Taiwan call for president to step down

All eyes during the celebrations were on how Ma and his Kuomintang rival, legislature speaker Wang Jin-pyng, interacted after their month-long political impasse, which has left the government in deadlock.

A Double Tenth holiday rally was staged in front of the presidential office, with surrounding areas sealed off by barbed wire barricades.

Five civic groups, rallying tens of thousands of people and shouting slogans including "the tyrant who violates the constitution and abuses the people must step down", protested near the heavily guarded presidential office.

Their protests continued late into the night. Several waves of scuffles between protesters and police were reported, but there were no injuries.

In his address, Ma touted his efforts to improve relations with the mainland, which have seen the two sides sign 19 economic and other non-political agreements since he took office in 2008 with a policy of engaging Beijing.

"The two sides should utilise their frequent contacts and interaction to boost political trust and should continue expanding and deepening exchanges in a variety of fields to further improve the welfare of the people," Ma told a rally of 3,000 local and foreign dignitaries.

In the speech that was titled "Stay the course and move forward in unity to create a new era", Ma called on people to help establish a civil society with tolerance and reason.

"We need to ask ourselves a few questions: On the path of democratisation … do we choose political infighting stemming from suspicion and confrontation?" he asked, apparently alluding to the political storm he sparked with Wang after accusing him of influence peddling.

Yesterday saw the first meeting between Wang and Ma since the two top men fell out over the issue.

Taiwanese media gave prominent coverage to how the two men interacted at the celebrations. Wang, as organiser, had to invite Ma to speak.

Television footage showed the two shaking hands several times and chatting about the weather and jogging.

Asked later if the two had reconciled, Wang said: "If there is no grudge, why should there be reconciliation?"

Meanwhile, Democratic Progressive Party chairman Su Tseng-chang, who refused to attend the rally, said his party would seek a vote of no confidence in the cabinet, which is headed by Ma's ally Jiang Yi-huah.

But his chance of success seems slim, given the KMT's majority in the legislature.

People First Party leader James Soong Chu-yu also did not attend the celebrations.