TAIPEI, Jan 1 — A Taiwanese tax reform campaign whose activists dress in yellow ramped up its protests today, interrupting a New Year flag-raising ceremony attended by the president, partially inspired by the recent success of France’s “yellow vests”.
France has been severely rattled by six weeks of often violent demonstrations from “gilets jaunes” protesters, named after the high-visibility vests supporters have adopted.
The movement forced French President Emmanuel Macron to jettison his controversial fuel tax hike and announce €10 billion (RM47 billion) in aid for the low-paid to try to tame the revolt.
Taiwan’s yellow shirt movement — where campaigners also wear hi-visibility vests — pre-dates the French campaign by three years.
But demonstrators have taken a cue from the recent protests in France, increasing the frequency of their rallies and taking a more confrontational approach.
Today around 100 demonstrators sneaked into the New Year’s Day flag raising ceremony in front of the presidential palace attended by President Tsai Ing-wen.
Once the flag had been raised they removed their jackets to unveil their yellow vests and banners and began shouting slogans, prompting brief scuffles with security officials.
“President Macron responded positively to the yellow vest movement in France and initiated reforms,” said Jacklyn Chang, a young university student at the protest, told AFP.
“We also hope President Tsai can hear our appeals, I know she can hear us,” she added.
Although the Taiwanese protesters are increasingly citing the movement in France as something to emulate there are some major differences between the two groups.
France’s yellow vests are a leaderless grassroots collective, largely organised through social media, with a varied list of demands and deep differences within the movement over strategy. More extreme elements have used violence.
Taiwan’s yellow shirts have remained peaceful and have a clear leadership structure.
They also stem from a dispute between tax authorities and Tai Ji Men, a religious organisation whose leader was arrested and prosecuted for fraud and tax evasion in 1996.
Although the courts have thrown out the fraud charges, Tai Ji Men is still accused of owing the government millions of dollars in back taxes.
Their first mass rally in 2016 centred around calling for a reprieve of those tax evasion fines.
More recent demonstrations, including a rally of some 20,000 supporters in Taipei on 19 December, have called for more general tax reforms, especially for poorer households.
But the movement still accuses Taiwan’s authorities of “persecuting” religious and political groups with tax probes.
“Our main goal is for the tax bureau to stop bullying people using tax violation charges,” Chen Tze-lung, a retired professor and one of the founders of the movement said.
It is not yet clear whether Taiwan’s yellow shirts will see broader success.
While they have mustered large rallies their demands have received little political support, even from the opposition and the Tsai administration has so far avoided any major confrontations with the group.
Nonetheless Tsai’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party received a bloody nose in local polls in November and they face a presidential election in 2020. — AFP