Part III: Beyond 900 days

The Alliance of Referendum for Taiwan sit-in base stationed in front of the Legislative Yuan in Taipei, Taiwan

An Interview with Professor Tsay, Chairman of the Alliance of Referendum for Taiwan (ART)

FL: How many people are now involved with running the Alliance of Referendum for Taiwan?

PT: It is difficult for me to give an accurate number of participants. It is a long term protest. My supporters mostly come from the middle class and lower class Taiwanese workers. They cannot be on the street with me every day. However, whenever there’s been an immediate call for action in response to a current issue, usually about 100 citizens will show up in a flash protest, at a designated site in Taipei City. We believe that these protests and demonstrations, which are exercised with the discipline of nonviolent action, are well received in the community. We encourage those who share the same beliefs of nonviolent struggle to organize themselves locally. On a daily basis, we have about 20 volunteers managing routine business. Currently, there are about 10 contact points in different cities.

FL: Are any similar long-term protests happening in other cities (in Taiwan)? Has the ART organized action in other cities? Which cities?

PT: There has also been a long-term street protest in Kaohsiung City, although it is not as well organized as the ART. We keep close contacts with that group and other smaller groups in other cities, such as Taichung, Tainan, Taoyuang, and Pintong.

FL: How long is the sit-in, in front of the Legislative Yuan in Taipei going to last? Is it running indefinitely? What would have to happen to make the sit-in end?

PT: We have committed ourselves to continue this sit-in until the disintegration of the ROC system in Taiwan. It is the system which is the culprit, and it is responsible for all injustice in Taiwan, regardless of which political party is in power.

Although having the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration in power may improve the situation, the pains suffered from a foreign occupying regime, namely the ROC, will not disappear until a new Constitution has formed. We have resolved to carry this civil rights movement until we achieve our ultimate goal of establishing a real democratic system in Taiwan.

The base of this sit-in is a civil rights education center, an action planning center and a sort of community center for those who believe in democracy.

FL: There is a "Senior Revolution Army" stationed at the ART sit-in base. How is this group different or related to the Alliance of Referendum for Taiwan?

PT: With an understanding and plan to exercise a nonviolent struggle against an oppressive system, namely the ROC in Taiwan, we also have to prepare strategies for all possible future scenarios.

The “Senior Revolutionary Army” consists of retired seniors who are free from family responsibilities. They have volunteered to safeguard the interests of Taiwan in the worst case scenario. We plan to fight, through nonviolent action, in the case of a Chinese Communist invasion or the KMT’s refusal to transfer power after losing a presidential campaign, even if this means sacrificing our lives in the worst case scenario. The "Senior Revolution Army" is a branch of the ART. There are several overseas Taiwanese individuals who have volunteered to join this "army" too.

FL: What is the goal of the Alliance of Referendum for Taiwan? Has the goal of the Alliance changed from the time it was first formed to now?

PT: We have called for changes and better laws since our protest on day one, as I have mentioned previously. The goals of the ART have not been and will not be changed.

The Kuomintang (KMT) regime has not felt threatened enough to take counter-actions to the ART. In other words, the number of people protesting is not sufficiently large enough for KMT regime to feel threatened. The KMT has not felt threatened by the actions of the ART, so they have not changed any laws.

The KMT has not committed acts as they used to do under martial law, i.e. by killing any political opponents. Under the Kuomintang’s rule, martial law was declared (1949-1987). During the martial law era, if the KMT felt threatened by the actions of a political dissent, such as speaking out publicly, the publishing of an opinion article, or associating with other dissents, they killed these political dissents. When Professor Chen, Wen-cheng (陳文成) of Carnegie Mellon University, visited his parents in Taiwan in 1981, he was murdered for his assistance in collecting money from supporters of political dissents of the Kaohsiung Incident of 1979.

We believe that once every single Taiwanese is able to enjoy full civil rights, the illegitimacy of ROC regime in Taiwan will have no place to hide. The ultimate goal of the ART is to disintegrate the ROC system, and to call for a new Constitution for Taiwan as a sovereign state. The reason for that is we have concluded that the ROC government is not one for people, by people, and of people.

I say all of this because the KMT has turned down petitions with signatures of more than 100 thousand people (as required by current referendum law), and which were reviewed three times by a Review Committee.

FL: You have alluded to referendum requirements in Taiwan. Could you explain/clarify the requirements for a referendum to be brought forth in Taiwan? Could you also explain the role of the Review Committee?

PT: There are four steps required before a referendum can be held. First, a referendum petition has to have 5/1000 signatures of total eligible voters to initiate the motion.

[Interviewer’s Note: the population of Taiwan is approximately 23 million, which includes non-eligible voters.]

Next, the signatures will be examined by the Central Electoral Commission for validity. Third, the motion with validated signatures will be discussed by the Referendum Review Committee under the Executive Yuan, in which all 21 members are appointed by Kuomintang (KMT). Fourth, if the motion is passed through the Review Committee, the motion needs to gather 5/100 signatures of total eligible voters to hold a referendum.

For example, a petition of referendum on the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) has been initiated three times, the first time was by DPP and the last two times was by the Taiwan Solidarity Union party (TSU). All three have been turned down by the KMT controlled Review Committee which has used all kinds of absurd reasons. Not all 21 Committee members were present at the meetings. But as long as more than half of the committee members were present at meeting, they voted and half of them voted to run down the referendum motion. Effectively, the end result is that about 15 people have completely blocked the will of more than a 100 thousand people. The TSU has appealed this case to the Higher Executive Court.

NEXT: Part IV The work of the Alliance of Referendum for Taiwan