The Sunflower Movement occupied Taiwan’s legislature on March 18, 2014 in protest against the attempt by some ruling party members in the legislature to approve the Cross-Straits Services and Trade Agreement (CSSTA), which had been negotiated between China and Taiwan, by short-cutting agreed procedure. Many in Taiwan were concerned about provisions in the CSSTA, which had been negotiated without sufficient consultation on the Taiwan side. The government response had been to stress the importance of free trade agreements, but the government did not answer the queries themselves.
After some confusion, Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng allowed the students to remain in the legislature and prohibited police from interfering. Wang believed any approval of the CSSTA should be in accord with the agreed procedure. Wang may also have felt that the CSSTA had been poorly negotiated. He himself had been under an attack from the ruling Kuomintang (KMT), which tried to remove his party membership and thus his membership in the legislature.
Generally, the demonstrations were very peaceful. The one possible exception was an invasion of the Cabinet offices on March 23, led by a splinter group. This attempt was put down violently by police overnight.
Generally, the Sunflower Movement had strong civil support. A demonstration in support on March 30 attracted as many as half a million people. Later, on April 10, the students voluntarily vacated the legislature. All reports suggested the students cleaned up all messes and left the legislature very clean.
On November 29, in local elections, the ruling KMT suffered a devastating defeat so disastrous that President Ma Ying-jeou resigned as chairman of the KMT to take responsibility.
In this context of widespread support for the Sunflower Movement, the indictment of 118 people several months after the events strikes this observer as very strange. In addition, a Taiwan prosecutor has written to this observer noting that the provisions under which the people have been indicted have already been declared unconstitutional. If so, this would suggest that the prosecutions will ultimately fail.
Taiwan’s judicial system still requires considerable reform before it meets the high democratic standards of most of Taiwan’s political system. These indictments suggest that political interference in the judiciary continues to be an ongoing problem.
Bruce Jacobs is Emeritus Professor of Asian Languages and Studies at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. He has lived in Taiwan and first visited in 1965.