Tsai vs Taiwan’s veterans: the cage fight that wasn’t

Police ramp up security for the president by erecting a protest pen for demonstrators

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 September, 2017, 7:19pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 September, 2017, 11:04pm

All was quiet in a heavily guarded protest pen outside Taipei’s National Revolutionary Martyrs’ Shrine on Sunday as military retirees opposed to pension cuts steered clear of the temporary “wild animal zone”.

Police had fenced off the area about 10 metres from the shrine, expecting vocal veterans to demonstrate over the cuts as Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen made an official appearance for Armed Forces Day.

The caged area, marked out by a three-metre-high iron fence, was labelled an “area for expressing opinions” but news outlets jokingly referred to it as a zone for wild animals.

Taiwan’s military may be first casualty in pensions crisis

Taiwan is no stranger to protests but police said they took the unusually strong action of setting up the zone to “ensure security”, tipped off that civic groups might demonstrate.

Military retirees have dogged Tsai since the legislature passed a bill in June cutting pension payouts to veterans, civil servants and teachers.

From July next year, annual interest on various pension pots will be cut from 18 per cent to 9 per cent. By 2021, the payments will be cut to zero.

Without the cuts, the pension scheme was forecast to default within a decade, but the overhaul angered recipients.

Retired military personnel banded together as the “800 Heroes Defending Their Rights” group and vowed to “shadow” Tsai each time she appeared in public.

As opposition grew, the president dodged eggs and even shoes hurled at her and was forced to cancel a trip to a temple.

Two weeks ago, protesters blocked the entrance of a stadium during the opening ceremony of the 2017 World University Games, stopping athletes from getting into the arena and delaying the ceremony for more than an hour.

Observers said that could be why police took the unusual step of setting up the protest pen.

But to the surprise of the authorities, none of the demonstrators turned up on Sunday.

Protests, rumours of terrorist attack, mar opening of university games in Taipei

Instead, more than 30,000 military retirees and their supporters rallied at railway stations and halls in 14 cities and counties, demanding Tsai reverse the pension reform.

Wu Shih-huai, spokesman of the “800 Heroes” group, said the armed forces had to protect Taiwan but the Tsai administration was trying to strip military retirees of their benefits.

“To keep us from protesting at the shrine, the Tsai government erected barricades stretching for more than a kilometre. What kind of the government is that?” Wu said.