Reforming the system is absolutely necessary. But what can society do if entrenched interests and status quo powers stand in the way of what needs to be done?
On many occasions since the members of the Sunflower Movement voluntarily exited the Legislative Yuan after a more than three-week occupation in April 2014, I had found myself correcting the perception among a number of foreign journalists and at academic conferences overseas that the dramatic events in the spring constituted a revolution. Though the term “Sunflower Revolution” was repeatedly used, it was a misnomer: It was never the intention of the Sunflowers to overthrow the system, or to replace it with another. Rather, the sole objective was reform of existing institutions. Therefore, notwithstanding the “extreme” nature of their actions, the Sunflowers overwhelmingly agreed that the prevailing political system should continue to exist, though they wanted to see its many flaws remedied, and unaccounted officials expunged.
We still don’t know to what extent the Sunflower Movement succeeded in achieving its goals. What is clear is that governments can rarely implement in the whole the maximalist requests of civil society; after all, politics is the art of compromise — at least in democratic societies. The controversial services trade agreement that sparked the occupation remains stalled, and an oversight mechanism for future cross-strait negotiations, one of the conditions set by the activists before they vacated the legislature, to is under consideration.
There were other less easily quantifiable successes. Despite officials claims to the contrary, the Ma administration’s reputation suffered a terrible blow. The drama re-energized civic activism, bringing political awareness among the population to levels unseen in years, and generated substantial interest overseas by making Taiwan exciting and newsworthy. Finally, the occupation undoubtedly had an impact on the Nov. 29 “nine-in-one” local elections, in which the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) was roundly defeated.
As I argued in a commentary a few months ago, the next step for the Sunflowers and the young activists the movement inspired is for themselves to enter politics and work from the inside. Since then, it has been encouraging to see a number of them choose to do so. Some of them ran in the Nov. 29 elections, while others started their own party or decided to join an existing political party — in almost every case the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), a much more natural ally, given its ideology, than the KMT.
My article, published today on Thinking Taiwan, continues here (photo by the author).