After 23 days occupying Taiwan’s parliament building, the Sunflower Movement protesters have handed it back to the government. Thousands took to the streets to applaud the exiting demonstrators. The inside of the building, as well as the surrounding streets, were thoroughly cleaned by protesters, who then peacefully dispersed.
The government of President Ma Ying-jeou has also begun its own filthy cleanup. Taiwan’s overseas representative offices sent letters to several media outlets around the world — including Germany’s Die Tageszeitung and Poland’s Gazeta Polska — objecting to how the protests were covered. The Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) has demanded ER records from Taipei hospitals for the night of March 24, when the government brutally cracked down on protesters, without citing any criminal code violations or specific reasons.
Riot police without badges or identifying numbers stand guard on the streets. When VICE News asked one police commander for comment, he pointed to an entirely blank patch of material on one of his officers and insisted “His number is right there.” Some protesters expressed the fear that the martial law Taiwan endured for 38 years — known as the White Terror — has returned.
An especially ominous episode occurred when a former gang leader, Chang An-Le — better know as the White Wolf — led an illegal rally last week on behalf of the Ma administration. Out on bail, the White Wolf promised to amass 2,000 followers, and many observers feared that he and his thugs would be used by President Ma as a tool to clear out the protesters. With his criminal links — his gang, the Bamboo Union, was Taiwan’s biggest — and deep ties to both the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Taiwan’s ruling Kuo-Ming Tang (KMT) party, the White Wolf posed a dangerous threat. However, upon its arrival on the back of a truck festooned with banners and loudspeakers, his entourage only numbered closer to 500 than 2,000 — and most were older men and women. His unruly mob provided a stark contrast to the polite and peaceful demonstrators of the Sunflower Movement. Riot police kept them from getting anywhere near the parliament and after a few shoving matches, the rally dispersed.
Now that the protesters have left on their own accord, many think they were victorious: Legislators are making vague promises to renegotiate the trade agreement with China that provoked these protests, parliament will consider a bill to provide oversight of relations with China, and citizens have themselves begun to discuss the Taiwanese constitution at a grassroots level. Perhaps the parliament chamber that was was so peacefully occupied by the Sunflower Movement — and, ironically, was renowned for legislators’ fistfights within it — has absorbed something of the Sunflower Movement spirit.
As the protest wound down, the mood was mixed. Many felt a sense of relief and achievement, whereas others felt the movement was too peaceful. An often heard opinion was that abandoning the Legislative Yuan yielded sorely needed leverage for the Sunflower Movement. VICE News asked protester Christina, what would happen next, and she replied, “Well, that’s up to bumbler Ma, isn't it?” She’s right, the ball is now squarely in “bumbler” Ma's court.
For the moment the protesters have not managed to repeal the trade agreement, but they did do something far more impressive. They have invigorated the youth of Taiwan. Their occupation of parliament and their rally on Ketagalan Boulevard showed a generation disillusioned by corrupt politics how to stand up and stake a claim in society.
Presidential elections may be 2 years away, but with young people now inspired to vote politicians should be lining up to jump from the sinking ship that is the Ma administration.