Should the demonstrations be a DPP affair?
There has been much criticism leveled at the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) since the demon-strations surrounding the visit of Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) to Taipei last week. The main accusation, aside from its supposed inability to stem violent protesters, is that in this time of crisis, the party could no refrain from campaigning, using every opportunity to turn the spotlight on star councilors and legislators, such as DPP deputy caucus whip Chiu Yi-ying (邱議瑩).
There undoubtedly was some of that during the Nov. 6 “Yellow ribbon siege” in Taipei, where placards and banners of prominent DPP members — including Chiu, who is indeed a master at getting media attention — were displayed on vehicles or carried by protesters, which made me wonder if perhaps I had not joined the wrong crowd and had found myself in the thick of an electoral campaign. Seeing this, I could not help but think that such politicians were exploiting the situation for selfish political gain.
On the other end of the spectrum are the groups of students who since last week have held sit-ins at various locations across Taiwan. In their case, serious attempts were made to cleanse their protest of any particular political party. No “pan-green” banners were to be seen, and the organizers kept a safe distance from the DPP or the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU), expelling anyone who sought to bring political parties into their discourse. That apolitical stance, if you will, earned the young demonstrators many kudos, often by the same people who had criticized the DPP for stealing the show.
Ironically, many have also lamented the poor organization of the anti-Chen/anti-Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) protests, saying that the demonstrations lacked coherence or coordination and thus rendered the whole affair impotent.
There is some truth in this, and if the opposition is to be coherent and well orchestrated, there will be little choice but for political parties — either the DPP or its smaller ally, the TSU — to step in. For protests and popular movements to be successful, or, at minimum, difficult to ignore by the government, there must be some rallying point, a center of gravity around which people can organize themselves. While the masses have energy, an despite the undoubtedly good intentions of the “Wild Strawberry” movement, that potential will remain untapped if that energy is not channeled through some figurehead. Even in democratic systems — and perhaps even more so in such systems — politics remains a field upon which it is charismatic leaders who carry the ball. Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia, or the Solidarity movement in Poland, to use but two examples, would not have been the successful anti-authoritarian movements they were had they not be led by Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa respectively.
Someone needs to provide guidance and must have at its disposal a modicum of resources to give structure to the opposition. Some may not like it, but if the protests are to gain traction and be sustained long enough to attract the kind of attention outside Taiwan that will be required to end the impasse, an organizing force like the DPP — probably the only viable option at present, unless something else emerges — will be necessary. Otherwise, the protests will remain incoherent, disunited and will eventually fade away as the authorities feel no inclination whatsoever to heed them.