Mass protest in Taiwan calling for an independence vote
President Tsai Ing-wen’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) suffered a defeat in the November 2018 local elections. The Beijing-friendly Kuomintang (KMT) won 15 of the 22 city and county seats, up from six previously, while the DPP’s share fell from 13 to just six – including Kaohsiung and Taichung, two of the most important cities in Taiwan, as well as its long-term strongholds.
Analysts attributed the DPP’s election rout on its failure in its domestic reform initiatives, from the island’s pension scheme to labour laws. However, news reports also allege that China was behind a bombardment of anti-DPP content through Facebook, Twitter and online chat groups, promoted by paid social media trolls. There are also dozens of investigations into allegations that Chinese money went to fund Taiwanese candidates opposing President Tsai and the DPP.
China still sees Taiwan as part of its territory to be reunified, despite the two sides being ruled separately since the end of a civil war on the mainland in 1949. Taiwan considers itself a sovereign state, with its own political and judicial systems, but has never declared formal independence from the mainland. Beijing has warned that it would respond with force if Taiwan tried an official split. Beijing has made a multi-pronged attack to erase Taiwan from the international stage, including blocking it from global forums and pressuring its dwindling number of official diplomatic allies. China has also successfully pressured global companies to list Taiwan as part of China on their corporate websites.
Thousands call for independence vote in protest
Thousands rally for Taiwan independence vote https://t.co/wdKVIq9RpN— ABS-CBN News Channel (@ANCALERTS) October 20, 2018
In the lead-up to the elections, tens of thousands of independence activists took to the streets for a major rally. The protest in central Taipei, on 21st October 2018, came as China increasingly pushes its claim to the self-ruling democratic island and President Tsai Ing-wen struggles to appease Beijing and independence factions.
It was the first large-scale protest calling for an outright independence vote since Taiwan first became a democracy more than 20 years ago. Organisers claimed a turnout of more than 100,000 people. Demonstrators gathered outside the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) headquarters chanting "Want referendum!" and "Oppose annexation!"
Organised by new group Formosa Alliance, which is backed by two pro-independence former Taiwan presidents, Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian, the rally called for a public vote on whether the island should formally declare independence from China.
A vote on independence would require an amendment to current laws, which bar referendums on changing the Constitution or sovereign territory. The Formosa Alliance is urging the DPP government, which has a majority in Parliament, to change the laws to allow such a vote.
'Yellow vest' protest movement calls for tax reforms
In December 2018, Taiwanese organised several anti-tax protests inspired by the French "yellow vest" (gilet jaunes) movement. Supporters of the Taiwanese Tax and Legal Reform League - donning the yellow vest - first marched on Taiwan's Presidential Office in the capital Taipei on 19th December 2018.
The march was aimed at pressuring the Taiwanese government to make the tax system more transparent. The group also protested against the Ministry of Finance, for what they regard as an unfair policy of levying taxes and for delaying the implementation of tax exemption arrangements.
The league was founded in 2016 and has been pressuring the government ever since - but organisers said the march marked the first time they had worn yellow vests. A spokesperson for the movement said:
"We were touched by the French movement and decided to go to the streets in yellow vests…we hope that (Taiwanese President) Tsai Ing-wen will listen to people's grievances and give concessions just like Emmanuel Macron did.”
On 1st January 2019, the protesters interrupted a New Year flag-raising ceremony attended by the president. Once the flag had been raised they removed their jackets to unveil their yellow vests and banners and began shouting slogans, leading to brief scuffles with security officials.
Voters reject same sex unions and LGBT-inclusive education in referendums
On 24th November 2018, Taiwanese voters rejected legalising same-sex marriage in a referendum, delivering a setback to the island's LGBTQ community. Another referendum held at the same time on LGBT-inclusive education in schools was also rejected.
In May 2017, Taiwan’s Constitutional Court said that the current law covering marriage discriminated against same-sex couples. The court gave the island’s legislature two years to amend existing laws or pass new legislation to legalise same-sex unions. While the referendums will not change the need to provide legal recognition to same-sex unions, they do cast a shadow on how that will be implemented. .
Victoria Hsu, executive director of Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights said:
"We must prevail. Our constitutional court's victory is historic. It clearly recognises the freedom to marry [for] same-sex couples. We must defend that."
On 21st December 2018, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issued an open letter urging the government not to “implement the outcomes of the referendums as this would violate human rights law, bolster discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and undermine comprehensive and inclusive education on gender and sexuality".The organisations also called on the government to enact legislation for recognising same-sex unions no later than 24th May 2019, which is the time limit set by the Constitutional Court.