Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Some have asked

"Elliot, what's with all the protesting in Taipei?"

First of all, be not afraid. I haven't been conscripted and there's not a hint of rioting. Second, it's definitely big news, if for no other reason than lots of people in basically unified action is fun to watch. As for the story itself, my ignorance will show here more than usual, but in brief it's like so:

A movement to depose the (DPP 民主進步黨, "the Green Party") president, Chén Shuǐ Biǎn 陳水扁, has been spearheaded by a fellow DPP member, Shī Míng Dé 施明德.

Shi Ming De

The protest, called (by me) the Million Man Biǎn Putsch 百萬民人倒扁 (for a "New Taiwan" no less), began September 9 and serves as the main stage for an effort to "tighten the screws" on Biǎn so he will step down as president. Although only a third of the anticipated number of protestors (300,000) showed up the first day (surrounding the presidential estate), the effect was still impressive.

Them angry red crowds

From what I have heard, if Biǎn does not step down by October 15, Shi is taking steps to execute a massive labor strike. The trademark for opposing Biǎn is to wear red clothes, hats, or bandanas, and, of course, to thrust your thumb downward as a savage putsch icon. A funny twist came the inaugural day when the red crowds suddenly turned yellow (inside plastic ponchos) in the severe rains. This led to a grassroots joke that "Shuǐ" (the president's name as well as the word for "water") is continuing to "Biǎn" the people ("Biǎn" referring both to the president's surname and to the folk use of "biǎn" (flat) as "pummel").

Chén Shuǐ Biǎn

What makes the episode so interesting to me is twofold. First, no matter how feisty the Taiwanese activists appear to be about this, it's comforting knowing things in Taiwan, a basically democratic oasis in Far East Asia, in all likelihood won't get too out of hand. In fact, at the risk of being patronizing, I admit the whole thing strikes me as kind of cute. Second, even though Shi is a fellow "green", he wants Biǎn out. He's crossed typically stringent party lines and called on "blues" (KMT 中國國民黨 leaders and members) to join in ousting Biǎn. Shi, who announced he has liver cancer and thus intends to engage in this protest to the bitter end as a "martyr", believes Biǎn is ruining their party's true identity. The basic charge against Biǎn is that he is highly corrupt, as came to light in his apparent abetting of his son-in-law in insider trading. I've also heard there are approximately fifteen lawsuits awaiting Biǎn when he resigns. Yet he has no intention of stepping down. In his the remaining 20 months of his second (and therefore last) term in office, Bian still aims to advance the country and stand by the people's election decision. I fully anticipate he will remain in office.

My personal sources about all this are decidedly biased (against Biǎn, a "trash man"), and I have no reliable statistical data about how widespread the putsch movement is. But considering more than a million people -- assuming, of course, a) that's how many will actually partake and b) that all of them are genuinely committed as opposed to merely curious -- a million people is only 1/23 of Taiwan's population. That's certaily a lot of people ("one in every 23"), but the question is whether they're the right people at the right time, so to speak. The movement seems to have quite a large bark without yet demonstrating any serious bite. My problem in analyzing the situation is that I have yet to hear concrete, damning allegations against Biǎn that impinge on him as president. So far I've mainly heard a lot finger-wagging about his corruption and fakery. (Uh, hello, he's a politician.) His retort to the corruption charge was interesting, to say the least. In effect he said, "I too am opposed to corruption. But tackling the problem means dismantling the most corrupt political body in our history -- the KMT." Not denying culpability but also not rolling over. Is Biǎn innocent? Almost positively not. But is he uniquely corrupt, so corrupt as to warrant a million man sit-in putsch? The movement's questionable efficacy aside, such warrant seems conspicuously absent.

"Save Taiwan"

I welcome readers to amend or correct my telling.

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