Potential Constitutional Crisis in Taiwan Erupts Over China Trade Pact

Taiwan's Legislative Yuan is now literally under citizen control. Late Tuesday night protesters, unhappy with the scrutiny applied to a service trade pact with China, stormed the Legislative Yuan and have occupied the building ever since.
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Taiwan's Legislative Yuan is now literally under citizen control. Late Tuesday night protesters, unhappy with the scrutiny applied to a service trade pact with China, stormed the Legislative Yuan and have occupied the building ever since. Angered by the quick pace with which the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party decided to move the agreement through the legislative process, protesters have now barricaded the entrances of the building and are waiting until March 21, when a floor meeting is due to take place, to hand it back to legislators.

Yesterday, despite protests, President Ma Ying-jeou publicly urged legislators to pass the trade deal before June, while also failing to mention the historic demonstrations taking place at the Legislative Yuan. Among the protesters, some would like the entire trade pact to be renegotiated, while others merely want a line-by-line examination of the deal to take place, something which was promised by President Ma Ying-jeou's government when first embarking on the agreement.

I was at the Legislative Yuan Wednesday afternoon, and a constant stream of speeches from professors, lawyers, activists and others took place for the duration of my visit. Students, media members and others were climbing onto the roof of the legislature in order to enter the building. Some appeared to be carrying food and supplies to those inside. At that time, police surrounded many of the entrances to legislature, but those lines have subsequently been broken, and the legislature is now completely under citizen control.

The protesters have begun calling themselves the "Reclaiming Our Democracy" Movement, and a formal document developed by five prominent Taiwanese scholars has surfaced declaring a constitutional crisis. The scholars are: Professor Chueh-An Yen (College of Law, National Taiwan University), Professor Ching-Yi Liu (Graduate Institute of National Development, National Taiwan University), Professor Wei-Chun Hsu (School of Law, Chung Yuan Christian University) , Professor Chao-Ju Chen (College of Law, National Taiwan University), Professor Wen-Tsong Chiou (Institutum Iurisprudentiae, Academia Sinica). The complete document can be read below the jump.


Declaration on a Constitutional CrisisTaipei, TaiwanMarch 19, 2014

We, lawyers and numerous citizens in Taiwan who are actively participating in "Reclaiming Our Democracy" Movement, solemnly declare the following:

1. A Constitutional Crisis What is currently happening in Taiwan is not just a protest; it is a constitutional crisis. The latest trigger of the crisis was the conduct of the Government: in pushing for the adoption of the Agreement on Trade in Services with China, by concealing crucial information and by breaking the understanding on Parliamentary scrutiny reached across the political parties in good faith, the Government evaded substantive and article-by-article reading of the Agreement by the Parliament, which is required under the Constitution. Moreover, in dealing with the crisis, the Government has not been returning to democratic processes, nor opening to public participation, despite unfailing persuasion and patience from civil societies. The Government -- and the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) -- under Mr. Ma Ying-jeou shall bear the sole responsibility for violating the most fundamental principles in the democratic Taiwan.

2. Civil ResistanceWhen every course of political process is exhausted, the citizens in Taiwan have no choice but to resort to civil resistance, including by taking control of the establishment of Legislative Yuan, one of the symbols of popular sovereignty. All these non-violent moves are but rightful public demands that the polity in Taiwan revert to constitutional democracy.

3. No Police ForceA constitutional crisis needs to be met by constitutional redress. Police force is not a just response; nor is it necessary, because there is no riot to suppress. The Government should immediately stop its deployment of police to the Legislative Yuan.

4. The President and the Speaker of the ParliamentUnder the Constitution, national defense, foreign relations, and relations with China are among the competences of the President; and the Parliament has the right and duty to conduct a substantive, article-by-article scrutiny on agreements with China. By its nature, the current crisis and its peaceful resolution are the obligations, respectively on part of the President and the Speaker of the Parliament, entrusted by the Constitution.

5. Heed to the Voice of PeopleIn the event that the President and the Speaker of the Parliament fail to positively respond to the rightful demands of the people, the citizens of Taiwan do not rule out the continual or expansion of their exercise of civil resistance, by all necessary means, "until we take our country back."

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