FOR a week last month, a man refused to leave a church built on the site of his former home in Taipei. Neither receiving visitors nor taking food, Lin I-hsiung stayed fixed to the spot where his mother and twin daughters were murdered 34 years ago—by government goons, it is assumed. The Kuomintang (KMT) ran Taiwan as an ugly dictatorship in those days, and Mr Lin had a reputation as a fighter for democracy. At 72, he is still at it. When he began his vigil, he said he would fast to death if necessary, until the government (a reformed and elected KMT) reversed a national energy policy that sees nuclear power as vital for the island. Not wanting to have a martyr on its hands, the government caved in. On April 30th Mr Lin ended his fast. The country’s nuclear policy lies in tatters.
goon: 打手, vigil: 宗教節日前一夜, cave in: 投降, lie in tatters: 破損無法修復
Abandoning nuclear power has long been a plank of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), of which Mr Lin was once chairman. But popular support for the idea swelled after the disaster at Fukushima in Japan in 2011, and has been boosted again by Mr Lin’s hunger strike. Taiwan has three ageing nuclear plants. The strike came in response to the construction of a fourth, Longmen, not far from Taipei. It was due to supply about 9% of Taiwan’s electricity. To defend his plans, the president, Ma Ying-jeou, held a rare televised debate with the opposition leader, Su Tseng-chang. He argued that Taiwan’s economic future needed nuclear power. Yet street protests culminated with a rally of nearly 30,000 on April 27th.
As the crowds swelled, Mr Ma huddled with his advisers. One told the president that every argument he had used was “100% right”. The trouble is, he said, “nobody is listening”. He urged Mr Ma to back down rather than risk the consequences of Mr Lin’s death for the party’s standing and for peace on the streets. And so, with Taipei full of protesters, the prime minister, Jiang Yi-huah, announced the climbdown. The first of Longmen’s two reactors would undergo safety inspections and would then be mothballed. Construction of the second reactor would halt altogether. A popular referendum would take place before the plant ever started operating. It was an astonishing turnaround.
As for where Taiwan’s politics go from here, street protests are now not only a hallmark but a deciding factor. The anti-nuclear protests follow the occupation by students of Taiwan’s parliament, the Legislative Yuan, in protest against a trade deal with China. (Mr Ma partially backed down there, too.) The new style of demonstrations at first took the DPP by surprise. But some members now want a party that itself grew out of an earlier generation of protest to hitch its fortunes to the new activism. There are risks for the DPP, however. Though sympathetic to the protests’ aims, Tsai Ing-wen, favourite to be the party’s presidential candidate in 2016, says: “You can’t run a country on the basis of social movements. You have to go back to politics.”
hitch fortune to: 藉由…獲得成功
The question is how that might happen. The street protests reflect widespread disillusion with the weakness of Taiwan’s political institutions, yet they have undermined them still further. Mr Ma is a lame duck with two years to run. More and more, Taiwan’s future could be decided on the streets.