(Continued from part one)
An emphasis on unity between the police and the people has emerged as a core element in the struggle by Taiwanese protestors to control representations of their movement. Where the Presidential Office has sought to describe them as a “Violent Mob,” they have successfully asserted the peaceful qualities inherent in the sympathetic bond that stretches across the barricades, uniting them with the rank and file policemen called up to contain them.
This is an interpretation that locates the source of potential violence at the top of the executive chain of command, i.e. in the Presidential Office. In line with this interpretation, a video has been circulated purporting to show two incidents in which commanding officers attempt to provoke violence between peaceful protesters and sympathetic rank-and-file police.
the politically risky burden of figuring out which order to follow will be borne by field officers exposed to two contradictory commands.
Taiwan’s erstwhile authoritarian policing system used dedicated “Bao An” units garrisoned around the island as a specialized riot control force. These units were recently downsized, with anti-riot capacity made a supplementary function of regular administrative police. The rank-and-file at the scene are thus regular beat cops deployed to anti-riot duty. This introduces an element of complexity into the command structure. For, in line with its democratic constitution, the police power in Taiwan is dispersed within the structure of the polity. Local police departments are under “simultaneous” control by local governments and the centralized bureaucracy that culminates in the Ministry of Interior. The ambiguity of this dual oversight weighs heavily on politically charged operations. A good example, in the present case, was the declaration by Kaohsiung mayor Chen Chu that she would not allow any police from her city to participate in a forceful suppression of the students. If Kaohsiung police happen to be present at the scene when a command comes down from the center to act, the politically risky burden of figuring out which order to follow will be borne by field officers exposed to two contradictory commands. One might expect a presidential order to ultimately overrule a mayor. But in Taiwanese political arena, that is not necessarily a safe bet.
Dealing with the political dimensions of institutional incoherence in Taiwanese police operations is a specialty of a kind of figure I have described elsewhere as the “Outlaw Legislators.” In this case, the key figure is the king of all Taiwanese legislators, outlaw and otherwise, Wang Jin-ping, who has served as the elected president of the legislative assembly since 1999.
As president of the legislature, he is formally vested with the “police power” to maintain order inside the legislative hall. The continued occupation of the building is directly related to his tolerance for this occupation. Wang’s remarkable tolerance can be best understood in the context of his ongoing struggle with President Ma, which escalated to a sort of life-and-death battle in September of 2013 when Ma initiated legal proceedings against Wang. Ma produced wiretapped evidence, obtained by the country’s chief prosecutor Huang Shih-ming, that Wang had attempted to interfere in the prosecution of another legislator. A conviction would have stripped Wang of his position and Wang fought back with everything he could. Wang’s victory (obtained just last week) has been nothing short of total. The evidence of Wang’s malfeasance was illegally obtained, and Wang’s countersuit resulted in Huang Shih-ming, the country’s chief prosecutor – rather than Wang – convicted and facing jail time!
Taiwan’s legislative body is not just a place for making law. It is the epicenter of all political networks on the island, the central clearing-house for political conflicts that cannot be contained in local context
Taiwan’s legislative body is not just a place for making law. It is the epicenter of all political networks on the island, the central clearing-house for political conflicts that cannot be contained in local context. As Wang’s victory over the president and chief prosecutor shows, the role of law and procedure inside this political arena is complex and unpredictable. The occupation of the legislative hall by dissident students is historically unprecedented. But there are abundant precedents for staging “street” politics in the legislative arena, such as the frequent fistfights between legislators which have been a notorious feature of Taiwanese democracy since the beginning of the transitional process. The students now inside the hall are idealists, appealing to Taiwan’s common commitment to the idea of democracy against the darkness and complexities of political dealmaking. Deals are being cut to throw open a door to Chinese communist capital. This door, by the student’s reckoning at least, threatens to open a Pandora’s box that will be impossible to close. Thus the process by which it is opened deserves a more inclusive and transparent discussion.