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May 27, 2017

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Monitoring mechanism good fruit of undemocratic protests

How should we judge the major lines of attack against students who protested for 24 days inside the Legislative Yuan? First, are these students champions or detractors of democracy? And second, regarding the Cross-Strait Trade in Services Pact, what should one make of criticism that the students don't realize the necessity of going through China as a door for greater regional integration?

The stronger argument against the students is that they threatened the architecture of democracy that is the foundation of our freedoms. By paralyzing the Legislature, these students have attempted to invoke the higher power of "the will of the people." And yet, the fairest way in this imperfect world is through voting, with the aggregate value that different camps receive determining policy outcomes.

Public expressions of discontent are an important outlet in democracies, and a free society will tolerate these protests. Important examples in Taiwan include the Wild Lily movement twenty years ago that precipitated the downfall of the unelected national assembly, and the "white shirt" protests in memory of Corporal Hung Chung-chiu. The latter case spurred the elimination of the military justice system in peacetime.

Similarly, the Sunflower Movement and its offshoot, the "black shirt" movement, have pressured the government to begin debates on a promised "cross-strait association monitoring law." They have also succeeded in reversing the infamous "30-second" approval of the service trade pact in committee headed by Legislator Chang Ching-chung.

Chang's action was legal, though underhanded, and therein lies the complicated relationship between public expressions of discontent and legislative change. By flouting the normal channels of voting to replace representatives and breaching the grounds of the hall of democratic lawmaking, the activists have endangered the contractual system of elections that periodically renew the government.

In a democracy, with its term limits, a president with a 10-percent approval rating still has a mandate until his term is up. Although it is fair to say that Ma's cross-strait platform received some form of approval in the 2012 election, his actions in accelerating economic integration and his repeated emphasis of "one country, two regions" has obviously touched a nerve. Concerns over his ideology need addressing, especially as Ma may be over-interpreting his mandate as approval of the "one-China" ideology.

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