By Eva Cheng
An estimated 50,000 to 100,000 angry protesters took to the streets in Taipei on May 4 calling on Prime Minister Lien Chan to resign and President Lee Teng-hui to apologise for the failure to check an increase of violent crime. Protesters also called for the protection of women's rights, including the demand that half the seats in parliament be reserved for women.
The crime wave includes what appear to be politically motivated murders, reinforcing a widespread resentment against the worsening dominance of mafia violence. In November, gunmen broke into the home of a Taoyuan county magistrate, killing him and seven others.
Women are frequent victims of such violence. In November, women's rights activist Peng Wan-ju was raped and stabbed to death in southern Kaohsiung. The latest shock to ignite public anger was the brutal murder of a teenage daughter of a TV actress in mid-April while she was on her way to school.
Interior minister Lin Feng-cheng admitted in December that crime levels had deteriorated to a "shocking level", but little has changed since.
Failing to obtain a satisfactory response on May 4, protest organiser and women's rights activist Liu Hsia on May 5 announced plans for another protest on May 18.
On May 7, following a meeting of the central standing committee of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) earlier that day, Lee ordered Lien to reshuffle part of the cabinet and to present a concrete proposal in a week's time.
In what is dismissed by the opposition parties as empty posturing, a KMT spokesperson claimed that Lien — who is also a vice-president and vice-chairperson of the KMT — had offered the president his resignation but it was refused. Lee was also planning to meet the protest organisers in an apparent move to talk them out of further action.
Lee in early May opened a new session of the National Assembly aimed at a series of constitutional changes, some of which would increase his power as president. One proposal is to allow him to appoint and sack the prime minister without parliamentary endorsement.
On May 6, Lien issued "policy directives" to increase women's safety as well as calling for measures that aim at increasing jobs for women, child-care places for working mothers and "special care centres" for sexual assault victims. Lien also promised that quotas for women in elected bodies at both national and local levels would be raised.