“We are not enemies. We are allies that stand facing one another” (caption to a picture that is purportedly an expression of police attitudes towards the recent occupation of Taiwan’s legislature)
In the context of a loving relationship between consenting adults, it’s normal for police to get screwed from both sides. Taiwanese democracy is sometimes a strained marriage, however. Tensions are introduced to any enterprise of collective self-determination when the great power next door insists your state does not exist. The existential tensions of Taiwanese democracy are currently being expressed in a constitutional crisis. Last Tuesday night, the unpopular president’s ham-fisted attempt to fudge the procedures involved in his party’s pursuit of economic integration with China blew up in his face. Dissident students (later joined by their professors, constitutional law scholars and, increasingly, the general public) occupied the legislative assembly to physically prevent the conclusion of a process that would have endowed an agreement concluded between legislatively unqualified bodies with the force of statutory law.
The subtleties of democratic law enforcement are frequently manifest in street confrontations between police and dissidents. The remarkable feature of this Taiwanese case is the degree to which the police have so far remained tolerant: protecting a space and time of exception allowing this moment of extraprocedural politics to remain thus far within the parameters of nonviolence. The Taiwanese police are pretty good at playing this kind of game. They have thirty years of experience in managing transitional democracy, after all. So, if there is any lesson to be drawn at this early stage of the event, perhaps it is that institutional memory can get you through a time of no constitution at least as well as the constitution can get you through times of no institutional memory.
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